Q: What are “curcuminoids?”
Curcuminoids is the name given to the active compounds in turmeric. These compounds are considered the “heavy lifters” of curcumin extracts.
Of the curcuminoids, the primary compound is simply (and somewhat confusingly) called “curcumin”. Most curcumin supplements are standardized for the content of that particular curcuminoid.
However, there are other compounds that are very valuable, including demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin. There is more recent research showing that the group of curcuminoids is more valuable for tumor reduction, anti-inflammation and joint pain relief, and slowing of Alzheimer’s progress than simply focusing on a single part of the curcumin extract.
Q: If curcumin is difficult to absorb, what can be done? How can curcumin be made to be more absorbable?
There are a number of ways to ensure that higher levels of curcumin get absorbed in the digestive tract and utilized in the body. The first way to boost absorption – and still the most common – is simply to use a standardized extract of curcumin from turmeric root.
Standardization is key for most herbal products. It concentrates the plant’s most effective compounds, and sets a bar for measuring the amounts of those compounds. Most curcumin supplements on the market are “95% standardized curcumin” products.
However, in the case of curcumin, even standardized extracts require large dosages in scientific studies and clinical trials in order to show a benefit.
In order to overcome this, various methods have been used to boost absorption.
Piperine – the compound from black pepper (Piper nigrum) that is responsible for its pungency makes the ingredient highly absorbable, but may interfere with common prescription medications. It is fine for short term use, but check with your physician before using long-term.
Phosphatidylcholine provides a safe transporter of curcumin, but may not always show the blood retention time required for therapeutic uses.
Micronization – making a standardized curcumin a very small particle size and then reblending with natural turmeric oil – shows excellent absorption and blood retention time, but the process is expensive, which is noticeable in the retail price.
Nanotechnology is a very new method and may provide very high levels of absorption, but it is not a thoroughly tested method in humans and its safety profile is relatively unknown.
If you are considering trying a curcumin supplement, one of the best things you can do is research these methods, and find the approach that seems to work best for your regimen.
Q: What’s the difference between turmeric and curcumin?
This is a very common question. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is the plant that provides curcumin, which is the generic term for the compound from the root of the plant.
When taken in supplemental forms, the big difference is that simple turmeric root only contains about 2-5% curcumin. That means that unstandardized, powdered products (essentially ground turmeric root that has been encapsulated) don’t provide much curcumin.
When turmeric is consumed in foods (curries, for example) for many years, there probably is a long-term protective effect against oxidative stress and inflammation. For example, the rate of Alzheimer’s disease in India is 4.4-fold less in India than the United States.1
But for therapeutic use, simple dried turmeric is probably of limited value. Aside from the fact that the root starts out with low levels of curcumin to begin with, curcumin is poorly absorbed in the digestive tract.