Curcumin (chemical name diferuloylmethane) is among the main active ingredients in the yellowish Indian spice turmeric that has been used for more than 2000 years in Indian and Chinese cuisine and medicine. Curcumin provides the yellow color of the spice.

Turmeric is derived from the domesticated plant Curcuma longa. It is widely used in Indian cooking, often found in delicious curries. It is common in Chinese and other South East Asian cuisine, also. Turmeric can also be obtained from the wild plant Curcuma aromatica, but this is not a common source.

Curcumin is documented to have a wide range of beneficial health properties including antioxidant, antiinflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial activities. The antioxidant effects appear to function by inhibiting generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS, also known as free radicals) including superoxides, hydrogen peroxide, and nitrite radicals.

Researchers are finding that curcumin can help oppose certain cancers, especially those of the digestive tract. Part of these findings include the ability to oppose the growth of carcinogenic infections of the digestive tract including that of the very common Helicobacter pylori bacerial infection that causes many stomach ulcers and cancers.

Curcumin has been found to have a number of properties that help prevent or accelerate the breakdown of damaging beta amyloid proteins found in Alzheimer’s Disease patients.

Curcumin Concentration in Turmeric

Curcumin concentration in turmeric spice varies. One study of turmeric composition found a peak curcumin concentration of 3.14% in multiple samples analyzed.

For use in supplements, turmeric is often standardized to 95% curcumin. However, turmeric itself has other active components such as some of the turmeric oils which are not made of curcumin.

Some curcumin supplements attempt to retain some of the other turmeric oil components. For instance, the BCM-95 curcumin variant used in Life Extension Super Bio-Curcumin® 400 mg 60 vegetarian capsules retains turmeric oils missing in other curcumin supplements.

Curcumin Bioavailability

Curcumin is poorly absorbed, leading to many variations which aim to improve its bioavailability. Most of the newer forms of curcumin introduced since around 2005 have bioavailability at least several times that of the 95% standardized form.

Curcumin Dosages and Side Effects

Single dosages of up to 12 grams of standardized 95% curcumin do not appear to have significant toxic effect or side effect outside of typical minor issues such as digestive upset and skin rashes in a few people. Some studies report that this is due to the very low bioavailability yielding only trace quantities measured in human blood until dosages of 10 grams or higher are reached.

Aside from a few supplements such as protein powders, amino acids, and D-Ribose, it would be a problem to consume 10 grams or more of any one supplement each day. The highly bioavailable forms of curcumin from Dolcas Biotech, Indena, Verdure Sciences, and Theravalues Corporation can drastically reduce the dosages needed to attain significant blood levels of curcumin. Often just one to three capsules per day is enough to get an effect of several grams or more of regular curcumin. The exact dosage depends upon the particular product because each formulation achieves varying bioavailability profiles.

Some research is being done on the use of curcumin as a contraceptive. It appears that no such products have been introduced yet, but the findings suggest that it may be possible to create such a product. People who are using curcumin at very high dosages and who are concerned with fertility should be aware of this somewhat unusual side effect.

Curcumin Usage Suggestions

There are some good choices today for curcumin supplements designed to improve bioavailability, much better than the options that existed even just five years ago. But even with these choices, if you are aiming to maintain significant levels of curcumin in your blood at all times for maximum effect, you are going to need to take two or three doses per day spaced evenly.

I’ve not noticed any particular digestive upset from taking curcumin with other supplements without a big meal, but this varies from person to person and also depends upon the other supplements you are taking. If you find that you need to take it with some food to minimize digestive upset, I’d suggest you try taking one dose in the morning with breakfast and another shortly before bedtime with a small protein-rich snack with some fat content such as cottage cheese. If you choose to take a third dose each day, take it with an afternoon snack or an early dinner. Some people who have reported having digestive upset from curcumin find that eating a slice of bread or toast relieves the symptoms.

Consider taking curcumin along with other beneficial oils and fats to increase absorption and for their synergistic benefits. Omega 3 fatty acid rich fish oils and flaxseed oils are particularly good choices. When cooking or preparing foods, olive oil is a healthy choice to go along with your curcumin supplements. One of the highly bioavailable curcumin supplements, Longvida Curcumin, uses stearic acid in its formulation to improve absorption. You might also consider incorporating cocoa butter which is rich in stearic acid. Cocoa mik is another option, too. Longvida also uses soy lecithin which is an excellent emulsifier and a great source of phospatidylcholine which is important to brain function and healthy cell membranes.

One study found that curcumin may have pro-oxidant effects related to phenoxyl radicals and could damage DNA. The common variant of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) is believed to help oppose some of this oxidative damage, so it would be good to take additonal vitamin E. Be sure to include both the gamma and alpha tocopherol forms because studies have shown that supplementation with alpha tocopherol alone can actually reduce the concentrations of gamma and delta tocopherol and worsen potential for some forms of oxidative damage. (This is believed to be one of the reasons why large-scale studies of supplementation with alpha tocopherol only do not show expected benefits.) Boosting reserves of glutathione may also help. Probably the most cost-effective means to do this is via supplementation with N-aceytl-cysteine (NAC).

People with blood clotting disorders should also be cautious about using curcumin. It is believed to slow clotting by both reducing platelet aggregation and reducing the formation of clots from fibrin proteins and collagens. By itself, the effect is probably nothing to worry about and may actually be a good thing as abnormal clotting cause a wide range of potentially lethal health problems such as strokes, heart attacks, and pulmonary embolisms. But when curcumin is combined with prescription medications such as warfarin or Plavix, there’s a chance the effect of slowed clotting could be enough that the medicine dosages may need to be reduced. In the case of warfarin, that could be a really good thing as that drug has some very serious dangers due to its interaction with vitamin K in the diet plus long-term usage risks involving accelerated development of atherosclerosis and osteoporosis. You could introduce a small dosage of curcumin, have your INR tested (INR reflects how slowly the blood clots with a measure of 0.8 to 1.2 for most people), and then continue to increase the dosage gradually while watching the INR test results to make sure they don’t go outside of your doctor’s prescribed target range.

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Further Reading

Can Curcumin Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alternative Approach : Spicy Curcumin Might Help You Avoid Alzheimer’s

How Curcumin Protects Against Cancer

Curcumin may offer protection against diabetes

Turmeric and curcumin: Biological actions and medicinal applications

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