Dr Rhonda Patrick has recently been discussing the benefits of curcumin. In this article we will look at the products she uses + the scientific studies and information behind curcumin’s benefits.

Let’s begin with the curcumin/turmeric product that Rhonda has been using:

The difference between a curcumin phytosome supplement, like the above, and a “regular” curcumin supplement is bioavilability. In a human study comparing Meriva absorbtion to regular curcumin, Meriva was shown to have a 18-fold higher absorbtion rate than standard curcumin1.

The phytosome part of the name means that a fat based wrapper (in this case from sunflower oil) is formed around the curcumin chemical. I couldn’t find the exact mechanism of action that leads to greater uptake by our cells, which would be interesting to know.

What is Curcumin? Curcumin vs Turmeric vs Cumin

Before we go any further, lets just clarify what we mean by curcumin.

Curcumin comes from the turmeric root, and is the bright yellow chemical that has a propensity to dye everything it comes into contact with (it’s what gives curries their yellow color).

Not to be confused with cumin, which is a different plant entirely. Cumin, is also used a lot in Indian cooking, and literally contains some of the same letters as curcumin.

Curcumin is one of three curcuminoids that come from turmeric, the other two have really long names (demethoxycurcumin (DMC) and bisdemethoxycurcumin (BDMC)).

These other curcuminoids also exhibit anti-inflammatory properties2, so are useful. Fortunately they get extracted at the same time as curcumin, so if you’re consuming a curcumin extract, it will contain DMC & BDMC also. In the approximate ratio of 77% curcumin, 17% demethoxycurcumin and 3% bisdemothoxycurcumin3.

 

The turmeric root on the left and its dry, powdered version on the right. Powdered turmeric is not the same as curcumin extract.

Difference between Turmeric and a “Curcumin Supplement”?

When you’re consuming a curcumin supplement, it typically means that the (approximately) 5% of curcumin present in turmeric has been extracted using a solvent4.

This way, the powder you end up with is in the range of 95% curcumin, rather than ~5% curcumin if it was a turmeric powder.

Curcumin Benefits

One of the key mechanisms of action behind curcumin is its ability to reduce chronic inflammation. Inflammation itself is not a bad thing, in fact its an essential survival mechanism that helps our bodies fight illness and heal injuries. Essentially what we mean by this is, when there’s an infection or physical trauma, we want inflammatory signals to communicated, such that the immune system, and other key systems can take action. However if there’s chronic inflammation, or inflammation in the wrong places, we have a problem.

Proteins within our body called cytokines control cell signalling to stimulate or reduce inflammation. When this system has issues regulating itself correctly, it results in unnecessary inflammation of the body. Curcumin has been shown to regulate the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Examples of this include:

  • Curcumin downregulates the inflammatory cytokines CXCL1 and -2 in breast cancer cells via NFκB (source)
  • Curcumin Blocks Cytokine-Mediated NF-κB Activation and Proinflammatory Gene Expression by Inhibiting Inhibitory Factor I-κB Kinase Activity (source)
  • Epigenetic regulation of high glucose-induced proinflammatory cytokine production in monocytes by curcumin (source)

Whilst the above is a “core mechanism” behind why curcumin is beneficial, there may others.

Lets now look at some of the practical uses behind curcumin:

Pain Relief (Including for Arthritis)

People with arthritis are often battling chronic, day to day pain, and thus are among the most frequent users5 of non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, aspirin and indometacin. The major risk with chronic use of NSAIDs is gastrointestinal complications – ranging from regurgitation/heartburn to bleeds and ulcers6. Therefore, a substance that can reduce pain, with less side effects than NSAIDs is highly desirable.

Below Rhonda cites studies where curcumin supplements were comparable to NSAIDs. If you click the pictures they will take you directly to her tweet, which includes the study links.

Improved Memory & Attenion

Curcumin appears to help reduce the cognitive decline associated with aging.

Reducing Depression / Anxiety

Curcumin appears to have benefits in reducing depression.

Summary

  • For the most potent effects, we want to be taking curcumin extract, rather than turmeric powder/root
  • To maximise bioavailability, we want to be consuming a meriva or thercurmin version of the curcumin

Sources

  1. Comparative absorption of a standardized curcuminoid mixture and its lecithin formulation – 2011 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21413691/
  2. Curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin, tetrahydrocurcumin and turmerones differentially regulate anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative responses through a ROS-independent mechanism – https://academic.oup.com/carcin/article/28/8/1765/2526767
  3. Effects of curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin and tetrahydrocurcumin on 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetateinduced tumor promotion – https://academic.oup.com/carcin/article-abstract/16/10/2493/411526
  4. Extraction of curcumin from turmeric roots – https://www.researchgate.net/file.PostFileLoader.html?id=54246744d5a3f2ab2f8b469e&assetKey=AS%3A273559857893418%401442233160841
  5. NSAID gastropathy: the second most deadly rheumatic disease? Epidemiology and risk appraisal – http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/2038014
  6. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and upper and lower gastrointestinal mucosal damage – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3890944/
Alex

Posted by Alex

Hi, I’m Alex, a writer with a broad interest in nutrition, hormones, cancer prevention and gerontology (study of ageing). I write this blog to answer questions I myself have had at one stage or another. With the hope that others find it useful.

6 Comments

  1. I dislocated my shoulder and am looking for ways to aid recovery. I’m not asking for medical advice, but would the anti-inflammatory effect of curcumin interfere with the “good” inflammatory responses going on in my body right now?

    I’m curious as to how the balance is struck between allowing the body to have an inflammatory response and taking anti-inflammatory.

    Reply

    1. Alex

      Hi Dave, thanks for the comment. I delayed answering this until I could sit down and do some more research. Unfortunately I won’t have time for the foreseeable future, so thought it best to reply briefly now.

      As you mention, inflammation is absolutely essential to the body, both in dealing with outside invaders, and in repairing damage to the body. So we do want it.

      So how does curcumin play into that picture, in particular with regards to injuries? The honest answer is that I don’t know.

      I can see solid rationale for using it for dealing with unwanted inflammation that are the result of daily lifestyle factors. There’s also increasing evidence for using curcumin as a method of pain reduction (for example women use it for PMS pain).

      But beyond that, I’m not too sure. For example, even if we thought about using curcumin for pain reduction in your shoulder injury – that could be problematic. Reduce the pain too much, and you could over use the joint, thus slowing its healing process. So the pain in this case is useful to a point.

      Reply

  2. Ignatius Turchi August 2, 2018 at 1:54 pm

    I read that Theracurmin is the most bioavailable form of curcumin. I am now taking theracurmin and BCM-95 curcumin/ ginger from Life Extension and I am getting some good results from the combination.

    Reply

    1. Alex

      Hi Ignatius, thanks for the message. Glad to hear the curcuminoids are helping. How are you measuring your results?

      With regards to theracurmin, it’s definitely right up there in potency. List in order of strength, low to high is:

      – Turmeric
      – Curcumin Extract
      – Curcumin Phytosome & Theracurmin

      There hasn’t yet been a randomized control trial with Curcumin Phytosome vs Theracurmin, so it’s impossible to say which is better… Yet.

      Reply

  3. Sarah Cummings July 15, 2018 at 3:03 pm

    This is amazing! I’ve been using turmeric for health reasons. Looks like I’ll be considering curcumin supplement. Thanks!

    Reply

    1. Alex

      Hi Sarah! Thanks for the comment, hope some of the info was useful. Would be interesting to see if a curcumin extract provides greater benefit than the turmeric you’re using currently. I’ve learnt through trial and error that just because something has good results in scientific studies, doesn’t guarantee it works for me (n=1 is always highly variable). Btw, nice niche site you’ve built around sleep 🙂

      Reply

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