Curcumin – History, Uses, and Benefits
Do your joints sound like an orchestra when you get out of bed in the morning? Did your blood work come back with multiple indicators of high inflammation? Are you looking to prevent or slow the formation of degenerative neurological and physical diseases? If so, then curcumin needs to be a staple in your diet and supplement regimen.
If you’ve ever prepared or consumed a popular curry dish like chicken tikka marsala then you may be familiar with turmeric, a bright yellow-orange spice. Turmeric comes from the root of Curcuma longa, a plant native to India. 
The biologically active compounds responsible for this coloring are fat-soluble polyphenols called curcuminoids.  Curcumin is the curcuminoid found in the highest concentration and offering the most benefit. Turmeric also contains curcuminoids like demethoxycurcumin, bimethoxycurcumin, and cyclocurcumin. 
Turmeric root contains between 5% and 10% curcumin by weight.  To prepare turmeric the roots of the plant are boiled, dried, and ground.  At this point the spice is sold in bulk or processed by manufacturers to isolate the curcuminoids.
Those who don’t prefer the taste of turmeric can also obtain small quantities of curcumin from its cousin the ginger root.  Neither root can compare to the quality and potency of standardized curcumin supplements currently on the market today.
Although curcuminoids were not isolated by scientists until the early 1900s, traditional Indian medicine, also known as Ayurveda, recognized the importance of curcumin back in 1900 B.C.  Practitioners of Ayurveda call curcumin the “cleanser of the body.”  They prescribe turmeric to treat conditions ranging from skin infections to gastrointestinal diseases. 
Traditional Chinese medicine has also been using turmeric for thousands of years to improve digestion, liver function, decrease pain, and heal wounds.  Contemporary naturopathic physicians continue to recommend curcumin to their patients as a powerful tool for fighting disease and inflammation.
Curcumin is a compound with powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-pain, neuroprotective, and cardioprotective properties.
Curcumin is most commonly consumed orally using turmeric powder or a high-potency supplement with a standardized curcumin content. You can find turmeric and curcumin supplements in capsule, pill, tea, and liquid extract formats. 
Unfortunately, curcumin is poorly absorbed and rapidly metabolized in humans when taken as a standalone supplement.  The recommended dose of curcumin in humans to achieve benefits not related to the gastrointestinal tract is 50 to 500mg in one of the following forms: 
- Stacked with piperine
- In phytosome form combined with phosphatidylcholine
- In nanoparticle form
- In water-soluble form
If your curcumin supplement does not contain at least one of the forms in the list above, then you’re wasting your money. Standalone curcumin doses of up to 16 grams have almost no beneficial effects without this preparation and processing.  It’s important to purchase a high-quality curcumin supplement otherwise you’re wasting your money.
Curcumin is fat-soluble so in-theory it’s best consumed alongside a meal with a fat source like olive oil, butter, or peanut butter. However, one study found that curcumin is best consumed on an empty stomach, at least one hour prior to a meal, and with a high pH beverage like cherry juice. 
Experiment with curcumin consumption at different times of the day to see what feels best to you. You will benefit from daily and chronic rather than acute and sporadic curcumin consumption.
Consuming curcumin with 20mg of piperine, a compound found in black pepper can increase curcumin absorption by 2000%.  Those looking to alleviate gastrointestinal issues should take two to four grams of generic turmeric or curcumin that did not undergo special processing. 
Males should stack curcumin with soy isoflavones to decrease the risk of prostate cancer while both genders should stack this compound with fish oil, specifically docosahexaenoic acid, to protect against breast cancer.  While consuming curcumin may not completely protect against these cancers it may significantly delay the formation and spread of malicious cancer cells.
People orally ingest curcumin for numerous reasons, the most popular of which are to increase antioxidant intake, fight inflammation, and prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and post-menstrual syndrome.  Curcumin consumption may also be used to decrease perceived pain, blood pressure, triglycerides, and increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. 
You can also add liquid to create a turmeric paste and apply it directly to the skin.  Traditional Indian medicine prescribed the application of curcumin to the skin to decrease inflammation, skin wounds, and tumors.  Unfortunately there is little evidence supporting the use of curcumin on the skin for these purposes.
Turmeric may cause an allergic skin reaction in some individuals, resulting in a mild and itchy rash. Excessive turmeric consumption may cause nausea, diarrhea, increased bleeding risk, overactive liver function, below-normal blood pressure, excessive gallbladder contractions, and specifically for females, increased menstrual flow.  These side effects may be attributable to compounds other than curcumin.
While one study found that curcumin may specifically increase gallbladder contractions in otherwise healthy individuals, clinical studies have yet to observe serious adverse effects even when using oral curcumin doses of up to 12 grams.  If you’re looking to significantly increase your curcumin intake without side effects, then it would be wise to use a high-potency supplement rather than turmeric powder.
Consult with your physician about consuming high quantities of curcumin if you currently take blood thinners like aspirin or warfarin as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil.  Those with liver disease who consume prescription medications metabolized by the liver should also limit their curcumin consumption as it may cause toxicity. 
Curcumin is an excellent compound when used in moderation for otherwise healthy individuals not falling in to the populations described above.
Curcumin is a compound with powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-pain, neuroprotective, and cardioprotective properties. Preliminary evidence in human, animal, and cell models indicate it can both protect and fight against cancers, gastrointestinal issues, and degenerative diseases. Curcumin may also have a small athletic performance-enhancing benefits as observed in animal models.
Curcumin powerful antioxidant properties are characterized by its ability to scavenge for free radicals, donate a hydrogen molecule, and bind to metals like iron and copper.  Curcumin may also ward off reactive nitrogen species but these results have not been verified in humans. 
Cellular studies indicate the curcumin boosts the immune system by increasing the activity of T cells, B cells, macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, and dendritic cells as well as enhance antibody response.  A study of twenty patients with pancreatitis found that 500mg of curcumin stacked with 5mg of piperine consumed daily for six weeks significantly increased glutathione (GSH) and significantly decreased malonyldialdehyde (MDA) blood levels. 
GSH is considered one of the body’s most powerful antioxidant and MDA is a byproduct of free radicals. A second human study of twenty-one patients with a blood disorder found that 500mg of curcumin daily for twelve weeks significantly decreased MDA and increased GSH compared to placebo.  These findings are promising for those with high number of free radicals in the blood.
From the anti-inflammatory standpoint curcumin downregulates and inhibits an inflammatory response from cytokines, chemokines, adhesion molecules, growth factors, and malicious enzymes.  A study of twenty-one patients with severe skin inflammation found that daily oral consuming of 6,000mg of curcumin significantly decreased skin redness and Modified Oral Mucositis Index score compared to placebo. 
A higher-level study of curcumin and its anti-inflammatory properties suggests it’s an effective compound for correcting gut permeability.  High gut permeability indicates the leakage for pro-inflammatory molecules like cytokines.
Researchers correlate high inflammation with an increase tumor production which if true, makes curcumin an exceptional component of a regimen designed to slow or fight cancer.  Curcumin induces programmed cell death, also known as apoptosis, in leukemia and choriocarcinoma cells as well as may synergistically improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs. 
Animal models support the oral consumption of curcumin to prevent the development of chemically induced stomach, oral, liver, and colon cancers.  Unfortunately insufficient evidence exists to support these effects in humans.
Those looking to keep their cholesterol and triglycerides in-check may want to make curcumin a staple compound in their diet. A study of patients between 40 and 60 years of age found that 80mg of daily curcumin supplementation significantly lowered triglycerides and increased nitric oxide in the blood.  Improved nitric oxide production discourages the stiffening of arterial walls.
Researchers compared the effects of 15mg, 30mg, and 60mg of daily curcumin supplementation on 75 individuals and found that the lowest dose decrease total and LDL cholesterol most significantly while also raising HDL cholesterol most significantly.  These findings show that larger quantities of a compound are not always more beneficial.
Curcumin may offer significant relief from those experience joint pain and arthritis. Just 500 to 1,200mg of curcumin per day can significantly decrease morning stiffness and joint swelling as well as provide the same relief offered by 50 to 300mg non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil. 
Curcumin also improves treadmill walking performance and decreases pain scores as measured by the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities score and Karnofsky Performance Scale Index.  If you have a history of achy joints or struggle with arthritis then incorporate curcumin in to your daily life to improve mobility and decrease pain.
As previously mentioned, curcumin does not need to be processed in a special way or stacked with piperine if your goal is to improve gastrointestinal health. Two studies of 88 patients with ulcerative colitis (UC), a debilitating digestive disorder, found that 2,000mg of daily curcumin significantly decreases instances of relapse as well as improved suppressed the negative effects of UC as measured by the clinical activity index (CAI) and endoscopic index (EI). 
Curcumin is not a replacement for a high-quality probiotic but it may help to alleviate pain and symptoms associated with severe gastrointestinal issues.
Scientists now believe that the Indian culture heavy consumption of turmeric, a spice rich in curcumin, may explain why those between 70 and 79 years old are 4.4 times less likely to have Alzheimer’s Disease compared the to the equivalent age demographic in the United States.  This neurodegenerative disease is characterized by a build-up of the β-amyloid peptide outside the neurons in the brain. 
Scholars estimate that the average Indian consumes approximately 125mg of curcumin per day but just 80mg appears to be a sufficient quantity for significantly lowering beta-amyloid and inflammation markers in the blood.  Even if you don’t have a family history of Alzheimer’s Disease curcumin can slow the decline of brain function.
The research on curcumin’s impact on exercise performance is sparse. Only one animal study examines the impact of this compound on fatigue. Mice consumed either 10mg of curcumin powder daily for three days or placebo and then ran uphill or downhill on a treadmill.
Downhill running significantly shortened the time before the mice became fatigued as well as increased inflammatory markers. However, those mice ingesting curcumin completed negated these negative effects compared to placebo.  While curcumin may not be the Holy Grail of exercise-enhancing supplements, it offers a slew of other benefits for general health and well-being.
Where Can I Find Curcumin?
The spice turmeric, sold in grocery stores across the country, contains notable quantities of curcumin. If you’d rather consume a high-potency standardized extract you can find curcumin as a standalone supplement or as part of a blend. Superfood, joint health, and liver health supplements typically contain curcumin. The list below highlights some of the more popular products containing curcumin.
- IMSOALPHA SuperFood Alpha Blend – 25mg of curcumin extract standardized to 95% curcuminoids per 1 scoop (10.5g) serving
- Core Nutritionals Core Flex – 500mg turmeric standardized to 95% curcumin per 8 tablet serving
- Controlled Labs Green Bulge – 1st ingredient of five in a 940mg HyperBulge Complex proprietary blend per 5 capsule serving
- GAT Sport Liver Cleanse – 100mg of curcumin as turmeric root extract per 1 capsule serving
- Applied Nutriceuticals Osteo-Sport – 3rd ingredient of five in a 385mg Joint-Glide Mobility Complex proprietary blend
- Universal Nutrition Animal Flex – 2nd ingredient of five in a 1000mg Joint Support Complex proprietary blend
1) Aggarwal, B. B., et al. “Curcumin: the Indian Solid Gold.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Adv Exp Med Biol, 2007, Accessed Nov. 2016.
2) Higdon, Jane, et al. “Curcumin.” Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University, Feb. 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
3) Frank, Kurtis, et al. “Curcumin.” Examine.com, 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
4) Frautschy, Sally. “Curcumin.” Mary S. Easton UCLA Alzheimer Translation Center, University of California – Los Angeles, 2016, Accessed 18 Nov. 2016.
5) Mishra, Shrikant, and Kalpana Palanivelu. “The Effect of Curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer’s Disease: An Overview.” Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology 11.1 (2008): 13–19. PMC. Web. Nov. 2016.
6) “Turmeric.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Institutes of Health, 31 May 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
7) Carroll, Robert E. et al. “Phase IIA Clinical Trial of Curcumin for the Prevention of Colorectal Neoplasia.” Cancer prevention research (Philadelphia, Pa.) 4.3 (2011): 354–364. PMC. Web. Nov. 2016.
8) Axe, Josh. “10 Turmeric Benefits: Superior to Medications?” Dr. Axe, 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
9) Hatcher, H. et al. “Curcumin: From Ancient Medicine to Current Clinical Trials.” Cellular and molecular life sciences : CMLS 65.11 (2008): 1631–1652. PMC. Web. Nov. 2016.
10) Jagetia, G. C., and B. B. Aggarwal. “”Spicing Up” of the Immune System by Curcumin.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, J Clin Immunol, Jan. 2007, Accessed Nov. 2016.
11) Durgaprasad, S., et al. “A Pilot Study of the Antioxidant Effect of Curcumin in Tropical Pancreatitis.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Indian J Med Res, Oct. 2005, Accessed Nov. 2016.
12) Kalpravidh, R. W., et al. “Improvement in Oxidative Stress and Antioxidant Parameters in Beta-thalassemia/Hb E Patients Treated with Curcuminoids.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Clin Biochem, Mar. 2010, Accessed Nov. 2016.
13) Chainani-Wu, N. “High-dose Curcuminoids Are Efficacious in the Reduction in Symptoms and Signs of Oral Lichen Planus.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, J Am Acad Dermatol, May 2012, Accessed Nov. 2016.
14) Ghosh, S. S., et al. “Curcumin and Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD): Major Mode of Action Through Stimulating Endogenous Intestinal Alkaline Phosphatase.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Molecules, 2 Dec. 2014, Accessed Nov. 2016.
15) Menon, V. P., and A. R. Sudheer. “Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Properties of Curcumin.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Adv Exp Med Biol, 2007, Accessed Nov. 2016.
16) Mishra, D., et al. “Curcumin Induces Apoptosis in Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Cell Lines Via PARP-1 Cleavage.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Asian Pac J Cancer Prev, 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
17) Lim, W., et al. “Curcumin Suppresses Proliferation and Migration and Induces Apoptosis on Human Placental Choriocarcinoma Cells Via ERK1/2 and SAPK/JNK MAPK Signali…” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Biol Reprod, 31 Aug. 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
18) DiSilvestro, Robert A et al. “Diverse Effects of a Low Dose Supplement of Lipidated Curcumin in Healthy Middle Aged People.” Nutrition Journal 11 (2012): 79. PMC. Web. Nov. 2016.
19) Alwi, I., et al. “The Effect of Curcumin on Lipid Level in Patients with Acute Coronary Syndrome.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Acta Med Indones, Oct. 2008, Accessed Nov. 2016.
20) Belcaro, G., et al. “Efficacy and Safety of Meriva®, a Curcumin-phosphatidylcholine Complex, During Extended Administration in Osteoarthritis Patients.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Altern Med Rev, Dec. 2010, Accessed Nov. 2016.
21) Hanai, H., et al. “Curcumin Maintenance Therapy for Ulcerative Colitis: Randomized, Multicenter, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Trial.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol, Dec. 2006, Accessed Nov. 2016.
22) Davis, Mark J., et al. “Curcumin Effects on Inflammation and Performance Recovery Following Eccentric Exercise-induced Muscle Damage | Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.” American Journal of Physiology, American Physiological Society, 1 June 2007, Accessed Nov. 2016.