Numerous studies have confirmed the amazing medical benefits of turmeric, so experts recommend its daily addition to our diet.
Turmeric is a rhizome, a member of the Zingiberaceae family along with ginger, and has been commonly used in the traditional Chinese (TCM) and Ayurvedic medicine.
Curcumin (diferuloylmethane), is the yellow pigment found in the spice turmeric, one of the three curcuminoids in it, the other two being desmethoxycurcumin and bis-desmethoxycurcumin. Yet, scientists believe that there are more than a hundred chemical compounds in turmeric which are primarily located in its essential oil.
Studies have shown that curcumin has a number of different mechanisms of action, and it can:
- Modulate about 700 of the genes
- Positively modulate more than 160 different physiological pathways
- Affect signaling molecules
- Make the cells’ membranes more orderly
It directly interacts with
- Inflammatory molecules
- DNA and RNA
- Various carrier proteins and metal ions
- Cell survival proteins
- Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV1) integrase and protease
Therefore, it can prevent various diseases, and can treat:
- Metabolic diseases
- Autoimmune disorders
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Lung and liver diseases
- Neurological diseases
- Inflammatory diseases
Moreover, researchers have found that curcumin and other bioactive compounds in turmeric can:
- Inhibit platelet aggregation
- Suppress thrombosis and myocardial infarction
- Treat symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes
- Prevent cataracts
- Lower systemic inflammation in obese individuals
- Enhance wound healing
- Prevent pulmonary toxicity and fibrosis
- Treat symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
- Alleviate symptoms of multiple sclerosis
- Prevent low-density lipoprotein oxidation
- Prevent radiation-induced damage and heavy metal toxicity
- Support healthy cholesterol levels
- Inhibit HIV replication
- Prevent liver damage
- Boost bile secretion
Yet, despite its countless health benefits, the low bioavailability of curcumin is a great issue. Merck Manual explains that bioavailability is the level of and rate at which the active moiety (drug or metabolite) enters systemic circulation, thereby accessing the site of action.
Studies have shown that when it is orally administered, the majority gets metabolized before it reaches the bloodstream. Also, its bioavailability and serum levels are mainly affected by the route and method of preparation, but it can be improved by adding specific adjuvants.
The low serum concentrations of curcumin have been found in numerous studies, such as:
-- A 1978 rat study by Wahlstrom and Blennow found oral curcumin was poorly absorbed in the gut, and 75% of the orally administered curcumin was excreted via the feces.
-- A 1980 study by Ravindranath et al. found when rats were orally administered 400 mg of curcumin, no trace of curcumin was found in the heart blood.
-- Yang et al conducted another study which showed that the oral administration of 10 mg/kg of curcumin led to only 0.36 µg/ml of curcumin in the blood serum.
-- Sharma et al. conducted a study on people with colorectal cancer, and after they received Curcuma extract which contained 36–180 mg curcumin orally, there were no traces of curcumin nor its metabolites in the plasma, blood, and urine.
When it comes to the distribution of curcumin in the tissues, Ravindranath et al found that the oral administration of 400 mg of curcumin to rats led to only traces of the unchanged molecule in the liver and kidney.
Metabolites are the intermediate and final products of the process of metabolism. Primary metabolites are essential for the normal growth and maintenance of life, while secondary metabolites indirectly support primary metabolite activity and serve other important ecological functions.
After oral consumption, studies have shown that the curcumin metabolites are detected in plasma and serum, and are less active and potent than curcumin itself.
Moreover, studies have confirmed the rapid systemic excretion of curcumin from the body and its short half-time. Half-life is the time needed for a drug or other ingested substance to lose half its strength. This is the reason why some medications need to be taken several times daily, while others have longer half-lives maintain effective blood serum levels for much longer periods of time and can be taken less frequently.
Yet, there are highly effective ways to boost the bioavailability of this natural miracle:
1. Black Pepper
Black pepper has potent medicinal properties and is a powerful turmeric adjuvant. Black pepper lowers the risk of cancer, heart disease, liver disorders, treats Vitiligo, treats cognitive malfunction and memory loss, cures asthma, nasal congestion, and sinusitis, and helps in the case of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
According to Michael Greger, M.D. (Michael Greger, M.D., a physician, author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues:
“Piperine is a potent inhibitor of drug metabolism. One of the ways our liver gets rid of foreign substances is making them water-soluble so they can be more easily excreted. But this black pepper molecule inhibits that process.”
When it comes to the amounts of black pepper needed Dr.Michael Greger, MD, says:
“If people are given a bunch of turmeric curcumin, within an hour there’s a little bump in the level in their bloodstream. We don’t see a large increase because our liver is actively trying to get rid of it. But what if the process is suppressed by taking just a quarter teaspoon’s worth of black pepper?
Then you see curcumin levels skyrocket. The same amount of curcumin consumed, but the bioavailability shoots up 2000%. Even just a little pinch of pepper—1/20th of a teaspoon—can significantly boost levels. And guess what a common ingredient in curry powder is beside turmeric? Black pepper.”
The bioavailability of turmeric is boosted by piperine, the active ingredient of turmeric.
“The sharp aroma of black pepper is due to its essential oil content. Black pepper contains approximately 1.2 to 3.5% essential oil. Its key chemical constituents include d-limonene (up to 20%), a-pinene, b-pinene, sabinene, b-caryophyllene, and δ-3-carene. It is an essential oil rich in monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes (e.g. b-caryophyllene).
As a herb: Black pepper contains 5-10% pungent acid-amides (pseudoalkaloids), with piperine as its main compound and several others including piperyline, piperoleines, and piperamine. Pharmacological studies show that piperine is analgesic, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory and exhibits a depressant effect on the central nervous system.”
Studies have found that when piperine was co-administered with curcumin and given to human subjects, the bioavailability of curcumin increased by 2000%.
2. A Healthy Fat
Turmeric is fat-soluble, so when combines with fat, the body can absorb it better. Dr. Mercola explains that when it is not properly dissolved, curcumin faces difficulties to getting into the gut, which is where most of the immune system lives.
Dr. Greiger adds that another way to boost its absorption is to consume it in the whole food, turmeric root (fresh or dried as a powder) as natural oils found in turmeric root and turmeric powder can boost the bioavailability of curcumin seven to eightfold. When combined with fat, curcumin can be directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lymphatic system thereby in part bypassing the liver.
Dr. Saraswati Sukumar explains that the bioavailability of turmeric can be boosted by heat as well. He said that he used turmeric in every sauté, just a quarter teaspoon, or a half teaspoon. The moment you heat oil and add turmeric to it, it will become completely bioavailable.
Now that you know how to get the most out of the powerful turmeric, make sure you increase its intake and try some delicious and healthy turmeric recipes, such as golden milk and golden paste.
Here are some effective ways to boost your turmeric intake:
-- Add it to a salad or salad dressing- sprinkle it on most salads or just whisk it into any basic salad dressing
-- Sprinkle it on veggies like squash and sweet potatoes before you roast them
-- Make curry or even try some less popular alternative, like a Chickpea and Cauliflower version, filled with vegetables, plant protein, and other antioxidant-rich spices
-- Make a turmeric latte, with almond milk, coconut oil, and cinnamon