Curcumin, the active ingredient in the table spice turmeric, has dozens of proven health benefits.
It has moderate effects as a long-term cognitive enhancer and has been studied for its effects on cancer, heart disease, depression, and arthritis.
Curcumin is available in a more powerful concentration in supplement form.
The names turmeric and curcumin are used interchangeably, and supplements may be sold under either moniker.
What is Curcumin?
Turmeric contains compounds called curcuminoids, and curcumin is the most potent of these substances.
Like other antioxidants, curcumin hunts damaged molecules called free radicals that may kill cells. Antioxidants safeguard healthy cells from free radicals and may reduce existing damage they’ve caused.
Some holistic health experts consider curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties a viable force against cancer cells.
Curcumin has reduced the growth of cancer cells in lab animals, and may prevent cancer from developing in humans.
Curcumin is a natural blood thinner, as it stops platelets from clumping and forming blood clots. It’s also efficient at improving the endothelium, or blood vessel lining.
Endothelial dysfunction is one of the causes of heart disease, and curcumin may work as well as exercise to improve endothelial function.
Available online, in drugstores and health food stores, curcumin supplements are often sold with piperine (black pepper) and other curcuminoids added.
It’s sold in capsule, powder or liquid form. When buying turmeric or curcumin powder, make sure you’re purchasing medicinal turmeric, not the food-grade spice.
Diferuloylmethane, Turmeric extract, Curry Extract, Curcuma,
I learned about the health properties of curcumin after adding the powdered supplement to tea and smoothies.
For a year before that, I simply stirred in a spoonful of turmeric spice into my tea. While this made tea taste more interesting, I didn’t see health benefits until I started using a curcumin-rich supplement powder.
Curcumin (Curcuma longa) has been used as a medicinal treatment for thousands of years. Turmeric, the spice that makes Indian food taste so good, only contains three percent curcumin, and for health purposes, you need to use medical-grade curcumin/turmeric, not the same turmeric you use when you make Tandoori chicken.
You’ll get some health benefits from eating food-grade turmeric (or putting it in shakes and tea), but only medical-grade curcumin will give you the results you need. Take curcumin extract supplements for better brain function and other health benefits.
To guarantee better absorption, I use a curcumin supplement with black pepper, or piperine, as the supplement version is called. Taking curcumin with black pepper increases absorption by 2000%.
If not paired with black pepper, water-soluble curcumin, Meriva, Theracurmin or BCM-95, you won’t absorb enough curcumin for it to be effective. Check the ingredient list on supplement labels, or contact the manufacturer for details.
Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects help prevent metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes, congestive heart failure, and other life-threatening diseases.
Signs of metabolic syndrome include high blood pressure, excess fat around the waist (“spare tire”), a high triglyceride level, high fasting blood sugar, and low HDL cholesterol.
Curcumin isn’t mentioned as often as racetams or other nootropics on social media, but it does have its fans in the community.
On using curcumin for better mood and cognitive improvement, Reddit user Nickitito writes,
“So just started taking Curcumin (5 days ago) and think it’s great! I feel more social and motivated at work. I find a lot of the small tedious chores I would usually wait for someone else to do (taking out the trash, sweeping, etc.) are now done without hesitation.”
For an expert review of depression and turmeric, Dr. Kelly Brogan, MD, writes:
“This wonder-spice is also a mainstay of my anti-inflammatory work with patients in my practice where I use liposomal preparations of curcumin,”
Benefits and Effects
In a controlled trial study, 60 patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) were divided into three groups. One group took curcumin; one took Prozac, and the third group took Prozac and curcumin.
The group taking curcumin experienced results similar to Prozac after six weeks, and the group taking both Prozac and curcumin had the best outcome of all three groups.
Curcumin’s ability to boost Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) and possibly improve serotonin and dopamine, two mood-regulating hormones, make it worthy of more research as an alternative treatment to SSRI’s and other prescription antidepressants.
Curcumin decreases inflammation by inhibiting the production of cytokines tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a), monocyte chemoattractant protein (MCP), interleukin (IL) -1, -2, -6, -8 and other harmful substances.
In one study, 11 male recreational athletes received curcumin supplementation and then participated in intense exercise for an hour.
The results showed subtle differences between the curcumin group and placebo group, but researchers suggested there was a basis for further study.
Obesity and Weight Control
Curcumin may aid weight management by regulating lipid metabolism. This results in better control of triglycerides, cholesterol and other components of metabolic syndrome.
Preventing metabolic syndrome is one of the key ways to not only control weight but to reduce the risk of hypertension and other conditions that lead to cardiovascular disease or cancer. Curcumin helps your body metabolize fat to keep your weight in check.
Curcumin boosts Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF), growth hormone needed for optimal cognitive function. When you’re low on BDNF, it can cause depression, Alzheimer’s disease or cloudy, disorganized thinking.
By increasing the amount of BDNF, curcumin may prevent or reverse the conditions that cause cognitive decline. This is particularly useful in treating older adults who are showing signs of age-related memory loss.
How It Works
Synthetic drugs are designed to operate on one inflammation path, but curcumin targets several areas of inflammation
Curcumin blocks two inflammation-causing enzymes, 5-lipoxygenase, and cyclooxygenase-2. These enzymes encourage swelling and compromise organs and tissues.
By blocking these enzymes, curcumin reduces the inflammation that may lead to cancer, heart disease, depression, diabetes and other serious health conditions.
It reduces the number and severity of inflammation-causing cell surface adhesion molecules and inhibits TNF, a harmful cytokine, or cell-signaling protein molecule.
This multi-faceted, anti-inflammatory approach and curcumin’s ability to increase glutathione action (and activity of other antioxidants), make it effective against the growth of tumor cells.
Curcumin rids your body of unstable molecules called free radicals. These molecules steal electrons from nearby molecules, to create a chain of free radicals and weaken your cells.
This process leads to oxidative stress and can lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other potentially deadly illnesses.
Since turmeric contributes both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties throughout your immune system, it is less likely to have side effects than synthetic drugs.
It works with your body’s natural functions to restore health at a cellular level.
It usually takes a few weeks to see full benefits if you’re taking curcumin to treat a particular health condition (depression, arthritis, and cardiovascular disease).
If you’re taking curcumin for general cognitive health and well-being, you’ll notice a small improvement in your disposition within a few days. The effects should be ongoing as long as you continue taking the recommended dosage.
Curcumin is fat-soluble and should be taken with a fatty food. Olive oil, coconut oil, milk or yogurt are good choices. If you are using powdered curcumin, you might want to make golden milk tea, with organic milk and coconut oil.
The European Food Safety Authority panel recommends you take 3 mg of curcumin per one kg of bodyweight.
In addition to black pepper, you can take bromelain, lecithin or fish oil with curcumin to increase absorption.
- To treat arthritis and joint inflammation, Arthritis.org recommends taking a 400-600 mg capsule three times a day for osteoarthritis and a 500 mg capsule twice a day for rheumatoid arthritis.
- For upset stomach (dyspepsia), take 500 mg of curcumin four times a day.
- To improve liver function, take three grams of turmeric three times a day for 12 weeks.
- Improve cardiovascular function by taking 150 mg of curcumin daily for eight weeks.
- For weight loss, take 400-600 mg of curcumin powder three times a day.
- To increase antioxidants in the body, take 500 mg daily for three months.
Curcumin is usually safe in small to moderate doses. Side effects have been reported in some users taking high dosages. These side effects include:
- Stomach upset (GERD)
- Increased risk of bleeding
- Low blood pressure
Taking high doses of curcumin may interfere with iron absorption. Use this supplement sparingly if you have an iron deficiency, or check with your doctor.
Curcumin is a blood thinner, so you should stop taking it two weeks before surgery.
Don’t use medicinal turmeric without talking to your healthcare provider if you are on Warfarin, Plavix or other blood thinners (or if you use aspirin regularly), acid reflux medication or diabetes medication.
To relieve joint pain after an intense workout, stack cartilage-protecting curcumin, glucosamine (a combination of glucose and the amino acid glutamine), and fish oil.
Many studies confirm glucosamine’s ability to reduce joint pain and help build new cartilage. Fish oil, like curcumin, reduces the risk of heart disease and has anti-inflammatory properties to protect muscles.
- Recommended dose:
- Fish oil, two to three grams with breakfast and dinner
- Curcumin, 200-500 mg two to three times per day
- Glucosamine, 1500-2000 mg divided into two or three doses
For the relief of mild to moderate high blood pressure or joint pain, stack garlic and turmeric supplements fight inflammation while preventing blood platelets from clumping.
In a study comparing saffron with fluoxetine (generic Prozac), the results showed the subjects who took saffron extract experienced the same level of improvement as subjects who received fluoxetine.
Curcumin vs. Saffron Comparison:
- In studies on natural antidepressants, both saffron and turmeric (curcumin) were found to treat depression as efficiently as fluoxetine.
- It will take six to eight weeks to see results from saffron or curcumin when treating depression.
- Both supplements have few side effects.
- Turmeric (curcumin) supplements are more widely available than saffron supplements, in many different formulations.
Resveratrol, a polyphenol found in red wine, peanuts, and cranberries, has antioxidant properties that may treat cancer and cardiovascular disease.
It may also have anti-aging properties, according to studies conducted on mice and fish.
Curcumin vs. Resveratrol Comparison:
- Resveratrol and curcumin both exhibit anti-inflammatory properties and a study shows they both may suppress immune responses on T-cells and B-cells.
- Curcumin and resveratrol both have blood thinning properties, and shouldn’t be used if you’re on Warfarin.
- Resveratrol has been shown to be effective against prostate cancer.
3. Soy Isoflavones
Soy may lower your risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. Soy Isoflavones are phytoestrogens – they act like the hormone estrogen in the body, and are often used to treat the symptoms of menopause.
Curcumin vs. Soy Isoflavones Comparison:
- Soy isoflavones may stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells, according to some studies.
- Regular consumption of soy has been reported to cause poor memory and cognitive function), while curcumin is known to improve mental clarity.
- Curcumin has proven weight loss and fat burning properties; soy isoflavones help control metabolic syndrome to reduce the chance of obesity
Curcumin receives so many accolades from users and natural health experts, you may think “What’s the catch?”, but there isn’t any – at least not one scientists and doctors have uncovered yet.
Remember to buy medicinal turmeric, which is clearly marked (usually with curcumin somewhere next to it on the label). As long as you buy turmeric from the vitamin store or vitamin aisle, you’ll be safe.
If you mistake turmeric spice for powdered curcumin, you won’t get many health benefits, but you won’t suffer any side effects, either.
Look for curcumin supplements from with black pepper or BioPerine for maximum absorption.