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Turmeric — Curcumin Showdown: Nature’s Aspirin

Curcumin is arguably the single best supplement for health optimizers, beyond the 5 core supplements. As the “King of adaptogens”, which are herbs maintaining body and brain homeostasis, curcumin acts as “Nature’s Anti-inflammatory.”

Inflammation and our immune system are critical wellness factors as they involve themselves with virtually every disease modern medicine recognizes. Studies show curcumin can promote healthy cells while improving our immune system’s response in detecting and fighting the replication of pathogens and cancer cells in the body.

With 4,000 years of use as a member of the ginger family, turmeric, (Curcuma longa), is a sacred plant in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, and now has extensive support for its use in western medicine. Influencing turmeric’s bright golden yellow color, curcumin is a medicinally valuable polyphenol, which is a plant compound with antioxidant properties.

Amongst the three curcuminoids and most potent free radical scavengers in turmeric, the plant offers us only 2–5% curcumin, causing most turmeric supplements to be in curcumin extract form. From antioxidants to anti-inflammatory actions to cardiovascular and cognitive support to all points in between, the polyphenol, curcumin is a go-to top supplement option for all health optimizers.

In its active form of turmeric, curcumin acts as a popular anti-inflammatory with extensive supporting research offering noteworthy body and brain benefits. While turmeric kills cancer cells in Petri dishes, the biggest challenge with its medicinal use is its lack of absorbability, causing us to look to absorption enhancers and special patented enhanced absorption curcumin extract formulations.

While we have extensive anecdotal user reports spanning centuries worldwide, we also have legitimate scientific validation of curcumin’s medical value through an array of research studies.

Turmeric — Curcumin Benefits (Significant Effects)

*We need more studies for confirmation.

Turmeric — Curcumin Benefits (Minor Effects)

Anxiety, BDNF, blood flow, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol-LDL, chronic fatigue, Crohn’s disease, cognitive declines, colon cancer, cortisol, DNA, edema, gastrointestinal motility, HDL, IL-1, IL-6, insulin, liver damage, liver enzymes, kidneys, mucus, neuropathy, prostate cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, THF-Alpha, triglycerides, type-2 diabetes, ulcerative colitis, uric acid, vascular function.

Why Does Curcumin Have Such Low Absorbability?

While basic turmeric root powder kills cancer cells in Petri dishes, its biggest problem is its lack of absorbability in the body, causing us to use absorption enhancers and patented curcumin extracts. Equating to no actual body and brain benefit, commercial curcumin supplements and powders, are so ineffectively absorbed, zero curcumin shows up in the blood testing.

When we take oral supplements, they move directly into the stomach’s acidic environment. As they break down, they undergo gut absorption distribution, which is an efficient process for most nutrients and supplements, but the opposite case for curcumin.

Fat-soluble curcumin becomes unstable in the highly acidic gut, causing difficulty for proper curcumin absorption. This means because of the problem with this rapid gastrointestinal breakdown, we cannot absorb curcumin supplements. [95,96,97,98,99]

Absorption Solutions

The Four Categories of Curcumin Supplements

1. Turmeric Supplements (Turmeric Root Powder)

As we previously discuss, basic turmeric powder supplements possess the lowest levels of absorbability, with the fewest amount of active medicinal curcumin compounds. The best route for an optimizer who wants to go this low-cost route would be to use the turmeric spice in their kitchen, as we see in curries.

While using turmeric in this way won’t be of major therapeutic value, it is a cost-effective route to get more antioxidants. If one still wants to go the turmeric supplement route, we recommend combining ginger for a possible synergistic effect enhancement. [100,101,102,103]

2. Curcumin Supplements (Standardized 95% Curcuminoids Turmeric Extracts)

While standardization of health supplements is typically the gold standard for the nutraceutical industry, even the use of standardized curcumin products remains. Curcumin even in the standardized form is still unstable and not well-absorbed in the body.

To make matters worse, quality control in terms of product consistency is an enormous issue across the various curcumin supplements vendors. ConsumerLab.com research finds greater than 20% of reviewed curcumin supplements tested with fewer than 15% of the active compounds listed on their product label. [95,96,97,98,99]

3. Curcumin and Turmeric Supplements (Enhanced with Black Pepper Extract (Piperine or Bioperine)

In addressing the curcumin absorption problem, some products come with piperine, also known as BioPerine®, black pepper extract. While using curcumin piperine products increases curcumin absorption, it does as well add potential hazards.

Piperine delays the action of our liver clearance of substances in the gastrointestinal system, thus increasing curcumin absorption with higher amounts of curcumin moving beyond our gut.

We call this process glucuronidation, which likewise eliminates toxins, supplements, and prescription drugs and other waste products from the body.

With the use of piperine, blood levels of these substances could theoretically increase to possibly unsafe levels while increasing the risk of liver damage, when using piperine for longer time durations. While there are studies supporting this danger, effects from most substances are dose-dependent, as Sabinsa, the maker of BioPerine, claims their dose is too small to cause adverse effects.

Piperine has other potential side effects we associate with its use, including gastrointestinal irritation and inflammation, pain, and nausea. While taking curcumin supplements with meals containing food-based black pepper and fat sources can be helpful, we believe a top-quality curcumin supplement does not contain piperine. [104,105,106,107]

4. Curcumin Formulations with High Absorbability

An effective curcumin supplement is only effective if it offers good absorption rates in the body. And top absorption rates, several times over standard curcumin extracts, is the goal of all high absorption curcumin products.

While there are various types and brands of high absorption curcumin products, they are all analyzed by how much curcumin subjects process in their bloodstream. By prolonging the time of curcumin duration the body, we allow it to reach the tissues and targets of the highest need in the body.

High Absorption Curcumin Formulations by Name:

  • BCM95® (essential oils)
  • Cavacurmin® (starch oligosaccharides)
  • Curcumin C3 Reduct® (tetrahydrocurcuminoids)
  • Curcuwin® (polyvinylpyrrolidone)
  • Longvida® (lipid particles)
  • Meriva® (phytosomes)
  • Metacurmin (liquid micelles)
  • Sabinsa C3 Complex® (standardized curcuminoids)
  • Theracurmin (nanoparticles)
  • UltraCur (whey protein)

BCM-95, Longvida, Meriva, and Sabinsa C3 complex are the most popular high absorption curcumin formulas with the most solid science supporting their absorption delivery mechanisms. The less well-known options with less supporting science include Cavacurmin, CurcuWin, Metacurmin, Theracurmin, UltraCur. [108,109,110,111,112]

#1 Sabinsa C3 Complex®

As a rhizome (roots) extract, Sabinsa, the maker of BioPerine and C3 Complex, claim it is “the foremost clinically ­studied natural anti-­inflammatory and antioxidant”. C3 represents the formulaic inclusion of all three turmeric curcuminoids; curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin.

In providing stability to C3 Complex, bisdemethoxycurcumin and demethoxycurcumin make it more soluble in the gut, with studies showing the two compounds with curcumin outperforming curcumin on oxidative stress than curcumin as a sole extract. HPLC (high-performance liquid chromatography) is the technology the maker uses to detect the curcuminoid percentages with 2.5–6.5% bisedemethoxycurcumin, 70–80% curcumin, and 15–25% demethoxycurcumin. [113,114,115,116]

Why Use C3 Complex?

  • Best value high absorption curcumin product.
  • Most studies overtime for various indications and safety.
  • Higher dose curcumin regiments.
  • A more “full-spectrum” unprocessed natural formulation with potential benefits beyond sole curcumin.

Our Top C3 Complex Brand Selection

#2 Curcumin BCM-95®

Arjuna Natural Extracts Ltd., the maker of BCM-95, offers a mix of curcuminoids, along with the naturally occurring turmeric essential oils, with their 7 to 9 times greater enhancement of absorption claims. Comprising 86% curcuminoids, with essential oils making 7–9%, this formulation is unique in retaining the raw turmeric root natural oils, which most manufacturers remove during the extraction process.

A double steam distillation process extracts these essential oils which are roughly 50% β-turmerone, 7–9% α-turmerone and ar-turmerone, and the rest Ar-curcumene, α-curcumene, β-sesquiphellandrene, β-atlantone, Germacrone, and Zingiberene. In action fat binding actions, combining curcumin with a variety of fat types naturally increases, thus impressing researchers still detecting blood levels of curcumin 8 hours after BCM-95 ingestion.

As these oils appear to offer a gastroprotective healing effect, BCM-95 might be the top choice for gastrointestinal problems, including heartburn, ulcer, and gut inflammation, and type 2 diabetes.

Originally, BCM-95 was making a name for itself in studies in outperforming Prozac and as a placebo for treatment-resistant major depression and anxiolytic actions. Recently, we find BCM-95 continuing this initial success with successful trials for osteoarthritis. [117,118,119,120,121]

Why Use BCM-95?

  • The best evidence for depression with potential anxiety benefits.
  • The best evidence for gut healing benefits.
  • The best evidence for type 2 diabetes.
  • Emerging evidence for other curcumin benefits.

Our Top BCM-95 Brand Selection

#3 Other Enhanced Curcumin Formations

(Curcumin C3 Reduct®, Cavacurcumin®, CurcuWin®, Metacurcumin, NovaSol, Theracurmin, and UltraCur)

From amongst this group of “others”, Theracurmin is probably the one we most recognize. Theracurmin has reduced particle curcumin, which the maker, Integrative Therapeutics, calls, “nanoparticles”. Through emulsifying gum ghatti polysaccharides, this microparticle curcumin form is also a much better form of curcumin, as in the case with the other high absorption curcumins.

Despite some scientists claiming critical design bias, one study shows Theracurmin is 27 times more bioavailable than standard curcumin supplements. Easily water-soluble and stable, Theracurmin can be mixed into drinks, providing a great option for those with troubles swallowing pills. [122,123,124,125]

Why Use Theracurmin?

  • Water-soluble curcumin option.
  • Easily mixed with drinks.
  • Potential for greater absorption.
  • Solid, anecdotal evidence.

Our Top Theracurmin Brand Selection

#4 Meriva®

By using “phytosome” technology, the creator of Meriva, Indena, delivers a curcumin absorption increasing product by combining it to phosphatidylcholine in the form of non-GMO soy lecithin. Phosphatidylcholine is a phospholipid, which is a class of lipids or fatty acids which are a major building block of all living cell membranes.

While our bodies can create phosphatidylcholine, it can just as easily absorb it from food sources, which makes this formulation highly absorbable in the body. This makes the delivery of Meriva an ideal match inside the human body.

One study shows Meriva causes 5-times greater peak blood levels over standard curcumin extracts, along with exponentially larger liver curcumin levels. Likewise, we see Meriva performing with 29-times stronger bioavailability in a human study.

Meriva raises curcumin blood levels over 20 times, with the other curcuminoids, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin increasing 50–60 times greater. Interestingly enough, we find subjects on Meriva with more curcuminoid metabolites in their blood than actual curcumin.

With the best evidence for inflammatory diseases, such as IBS, joint pain, osteoarthritis, MS, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and uveitis, Meriva is also popular for liver detox and repair. Meriva also sees a use for heart disease and cholesterol.

Curcuminoid metabolites, effective for inflammation in studies, make Meriva a top choice for inflammatory diseases. Meriva is also a popular anti-cancer choice because of its top antioxidant actions. [126,127,128]

Why Use Meriva?

  • The best evidence for arthritis.
  • The best evidence for raising curcumin metabolites
  • The best evidence of benefits for inflammatory conditions.
  • Solid evidence for detox and liver protection.

Our Top Meriva Brand Selection

#5 Longvida®

The joint-venture brainchild of UCLA neuroscientists and Verdue Sciences, Longvida carries the best brain support clinical evidence making it the most potent nootropic curcumin supplement. The target of Longvida is facilitating neurogenesis, which means the regeneration of brain cells.

In crossing the blood-brain barrier, Longvida is most effective for diseases such as dementia, cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke prevention and recovery, traumatic brain injury. Longvida also takes advantage of curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to protect brain cells.

With increasing BDNF, (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) levels in the brain, Longvida is proving itself to be a cognitive powerhouse. In aging, our BDNF brain levels drop, contributing to cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Through increasing BDNF brain levels in the brain, Longvida can assist in degenerative disease prevention. As well Longvida can help bind to and prevent the build-up of amyloid-B protein fragments, which cause inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain.

Solid Lipid Curcumin Particle Technology, (SLCP), is the Longvida technology it uses to envelop and protect curcumin from the rapid acid breakdown in the stomach. This allows dissolution at the point of absorption in the gastrointestinal tract, guaranteeing exponentially target tissue delivery.

In optimizing Longvida to deliver curcumin into target tissues through enhancing stability, solubility, and permeability, this significantly improves bioavailability as we can verify in human studies showing Longvida performing 65 times greater than standard curcumin. A triple-blind study reveals noteworthy Longvida cardiovascular effects along with brain benefits in working memory support, calm and satisfaction enhancement under strain, with a lowering of physical fatigue.

The primary reason we see Longvida in assisting with Alzheimer’s diseases is that the goal and action of Longvida are delivering as much “free curcumin” into the blood and body as possible, thus allowing the greatest brain effects from curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory values. Invariably, Meriva was created for inflammatory diseases by raising curcumin metabolite blood levels more so over the actual blood levels of curcumin. [126,127,128,129,130,131,132,133,134,135,136,137,138,139]

Why Use Longvida?

  • Only free curcumin producing option.
  • The best evidence for cognitive benefits, as the most nootropic curcumin supplement.
  • Potential dementia benefits.
  • Emerging evidence for other curcumin benefits.

Our Top Longvida Brand Selection

Other Absorption Enhancing Strategies

  • Take curcumin with food with fat sources, supplements, and black pepper topping. [140]
  • Take curcumin with omega-3’s such as algae oil, cod liver oil, fish oil, or krill oil, for increased synergy. (Animal studies) [141]
  • Take curcumin with warm drinks, or at least not cold beverages. (Animal Studies) [142]
  • Take curcumin with resveratrol and quercetin supplements or food sources. (In vitro and animal studies) [143] [144]
  • Take curcumin in divided doses throughout the day. [145]
  • Take curcumin patiently for 10 days to allow a build-up in the blood, which causes some manufacturers to suggest doubling dosage during this initial time if time is of the essence. [146]
  • Take curcumin without green tea if possible, as the active green tea compound, ECGC, “antagonizing”, or blocking curcumin absorption. (Possibly overstated) [147]

Special Warnings

While gastrointestinal side effects can occur with the use of higher amounts of turmeric/ curcumin, we consider them generally safe. And even though we still issue a caution for those with gallbladder disease, kidney stones, or interactions with blood-thinning or blood-sugar-lowering medications, there are some studies showing curcumin might be safe and effective even in these scenarios.

These concerns of curcumin drug interactions have only been verified in-vitro (or in test tubes). Curcumin through potent antioxidant mechanisms can act as a heavy metal disruptor and agitate heavy metals in the body, causing biological dentists to issue a caution in its use for those with mercury amalgam fillings. [148,149,150,151,152,153,154,155,156]

ADHD, Cognition, Depression, and Curcumin

(COMT, MAO-A, MAO-B, and MTHFR C677T SNP Variants)

One issue worth considering is curcumins natural monoamine oxidase inhibitor, (MAOI) mechanism with interaction potential with psychiatric drugs such as synthetic MAOIs and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, (SSRIs). Besides acting as MAO-A and MAO-B inhibitors, curcumin inhibits or slows down our catechol-O-methyltransferase, (COMT) enzyme, which metabolizes dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, and substances containing catechols, such as caffeine.

Curcumin causes actions on nitric oxide synthase 3, (NOS3), with increasing nitric oxide levels. It likewise carries some action on the histamine metabolizing digestive enzyme, diamine oxidase, (DAO), glutathione enzymes, both glutathione peroxidase, (GPX), and glutathione S-transferases (GST), and phosphatidylethanolamine N-methyltransferase, (PEMT), our phosphatidylcholine converting enzyme.

With effects on methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, (MTHFR), curcumin is a methyl donor to our master DNA methylation enzyme. Depending on one’s genetic makeup, most notably the actions on MAO-A, MAO-B, and COMT, curcumin can be helpful, especially for those with depression, or it could counterproductive for some individuals, based on their individual makeup.

To sum up these the findings, we hypothesize curcumin might be of most value to ADHD, cognition, and depression because of faster metabolism of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, whereas slower metabolism of these neurotransmitters, especially with COMT, we sometimes see anxiety conditions. In depression studies, curcumin appears to affect serotonin at lower dosages and dopamine at higher dosages [157,158,159,160,161,162]

Final Thoughts

So you might think, “which curcumin product should I use?”

There are a few ways of looking at this.

1) Combine them for an array of benefits.

2) Use Meriva for arthritis, BCM-95 for GI issues, or Longvida for Cognition.

3) Use Longvida with the understanding you are creating free curcumin in the body which should cover all general curcumin benefits.

While they might overstate the benefit of one versus the other, if a user has a more pressing specific need such as severe osteoarthritis, or chronic GI issues, then they can consider using one of the other two forms.

We feel Sabinsa C3 Complex is the best value while feeling there is value in using the plant in its raw more complete form.

While its anecdotal evidence is noteworthy, we conclude Theracurmin doesn’t have the research at this point.

The dosages we see in the studies are typically one 400–500 mg capsule two times a day, whereas UCLA is using up to 4-times this dosage in their Longvida Alzheimer’s, degenerative cognitive disorder studies.