Curcumin, a brilliant yellow substance found in turmeric root, has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine for its potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. In recent years, scientific research has validated the traditional uses of curcumin, causing it to hit the mainstream. In fact, by 2025, the global curcumin market is expected to be worth an astounding $1.3 billion!1
Unfortunately, most curcumin supplements are poorly bioavailable and unable to deliver significant health benefits. However, this doesn’t mean we should give up on curcumin altogether! Curcumin bioavailability can be greatly enhanced with innovative product formulation techniques, including the use of liposomes and turmeric essential oils. By selecting a bioavailable form of curcumin, you can experience the powerful health benefits of this time-honored botanical!
Innovative Strategies for Enhancing Curcumin Bioavailability
Curcumin is a unique phytochemical that gives turmeric root its signature bright yellow hue. It comprises approximately 3.14 percent of turmeric root and is hydrophobic, meaning it does not dissolve readily in water.2 This particular property of curcumin makes it poorly bioavailable in the human body, unable to be effectively transported in the bloodstream and taken up by cells.
However, curcuminoids are but one class of phytochemicals found in turmeric – turmeric also contains essential oils and resins, including turmerone and turmeric oleoresin. Turmeric essential oils enhance the bioavailability and therapeutic properties of curcumin, while turmeric oleoresins, commonly discarded during curcumin processing, offer their own health-promoting features!3,4,5 Curcumin formulas that capitalize on the synergistic benefits of all turmeric components, rather than curcumin alone, are thus a superior alternative to isolated curcumin supplements.
Curcumin bioavailability is also enhanced by specific types of delivery systems. To date, the most effective delivery method developed for curcumin is a nanoliposomal formulation.6 Self-emulsifying delivery systems, which release their contents upon contact with digestive juices in the gastrointestinal tract, also enhance curcumin absorption.7 Piperine, an extract of black pepper, can further enhance curcumin bioavailability by inhibiting its breakdown in the liver.8
The 10 Evidence-Based Benefits of Bioavailable Curcumin
An abundance of scientific research supports the health benefits of curcumin. When administered in a bioavailable form, curcumin can support the wellbeing of your digestive tract, brain, joints, and skin, and may even slow the aging process!
Emerging research indicates that curcumin has potent antimicrobial properties. It inhibits the growth of the oral pathogen P. gingivalis and common antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as Acinetobacter baumannii and S. aureus.9,10,11 It works synergistically with pharmaceutical antibiotics and antifungals, potentiating their effects, and inhibits bacterial enzymatic systems that facilitate drug resistance.12
Some of curcumin’s most promising health effects pertain to its impact on brain function. Curcumin has been found to increase serum levels of BDNF, a nerve growth factor critical for healthy brain structure and function.13 Low serum levels of BDNF causes learning and memory disorders and are associated with neurocognitive disorders such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease.14,15 BDNF decreases with advancing age, so curcumin may also help alleviate natural declines in BDNF associated with aging.16
Curcumin may be a useful tool for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease due to its inhibitory effects on neuroinflammation and amyloid-beta aggregation, critical features of the Alzheimer’s disease process.17 Interestingly, curcumin-loaded lipid particles have even more significant effects than isolated curcumin on the inhibition of amyloid-beta aggregation.18
Blood Sugar Control
Optimal blood sugar control is a critical mediator of long-term health. Curcumin induces clinically-meaningful improvements in blood sugar control, blood lipids, and body weight in prediabetic and diabetic individuals.19,20
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), an accumulation of fat in the liver not caused by alcohol intake, is increasing in prevalence at an alarming rate globally. Like prediabetes and diabetes, it is characterized by reduced blood sugar control. Curcumin has been found to improve blood sugar, liver enzymes, and liver fat accumulation, alleviating NAFLD.21
Curcumin has garnered a lot of interest for its potential anti-cancer activity. While much of the research is preclinical – performed on cultured cells and animals – the results are exciting and certainly warrant further study.
In cell culture studies, curcumin lipid nanoparticles have been found to induce autophagy in human glioblastoma cells, a type of brain cancer.22 Curcumin also demonstrates activity at multiple molecular targets involved with breast cancer.23
Importantly, a growing body of research suggests that curcumin can safely be combined with certain types of chemotherapy to potentiate conventional cancer treatment and reduce its adverse effects, such as radiation-induced dermatitis in breast cancer patients.24,25,26
Depression is a growing problem worldwide. In patients with mild to moderate depression, the magnitude of benefit from pharmaceutical antidepressants is minimal.29 This has led to an interest in dietary, lifestyle, and nutraceutical interventions for managing depression. Preclinical research suggests that curcumin may alleviate depression by reducing inflammation and modulating the release of serotonin and dopamine.30,31
Curcumin demonstrates fascinating interactions with gut bacteria. In fact, these interactions may explain many of curcumin’s systemic health benefits, despite its poor oral bioavailability!32
In animal studies, curcumin has been found to alleviate intestinal inflammation by beneficially altering the gut microbiota. It also fortifies the intestinal barrier, protecting against leaky gut.33,34 These findings suggest that curcumin may be a beneficial adjunct treatment for people with inflammatory bowel disease and other gastrointestinal disorders.
In the past few decades, the search for interventions that slow the aging process has taken the scientific community by storm. While scientists have screened many compounds for their potential anti-aging properties, few have shown more promise than curcumin!
Curcumin works to increase healthspan, the years of a person’s life that are spent in good health, by making functional alterations at a cellular level. Curcumin inhibits the release of pro-inflammatory signaling molecules from senescent cells, cells that have ceased to divide due to old age or DNA damage and that accelerate physiological aging.35 Curcumin also activates sirtuins, a family of anti-aging proteins associated with increased healthspan.36
In the brain, curcumin slows processes that contribute to brain aging and cognitive dysfunction, including amyloid-beta aggregation and oxidative stress. In clinical trials, curcumin has produced marked improvements in memory and attention in older adults, indicating that its molecular mechanisms of action have real-world benefits for healthy aging.37,38
Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties make it a powerful intervention for stiff joints. It is useful for alleviating symptoms of arthritis and has similar efficacy to diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, for knee osteoarthritis.39,40 It may also relieve pain associated with rheumatic arthritis.41
Turmeric has been used for thousands of years in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of skin diseases. Preclinical research indicates that curcumin protects against UV light-induced skin cell damage and reduces levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines involved in eczema.42,43, A small clinical trial suggests that curcumin is also an effective adjunct treatment for psoriasis due to its potent anti-inflammatory properties.44,45
When taken in a bioavailable form, such as liposomal and self-emulsifying delivery systems or with piperine, curcumin offers an abundance of health benefits! Whether you’re looking to slow the aging process, support your joints, or protect your cognition, curcumin is one product you’ll definitely want to add to your healthy lifestyle!
- “Curcumin market size worth $1.30 billion by 2025. CAGR 12.3%: Grand View Research, Inc.” PR Newswire. 3 Sept 2018. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/curcumin-market-size-worth-1-30-billion-by-2025-cagr-12-3-grand-view-research-inc–811278562.html.
- Tayyem RF, et al. Curcumin content of turmeric and curry powders. Nutr Cancer. 2009; 55(2): 126-131.
- Yue GGL, et al. The role of turmerones on curcumin transportation and P-glycoprotein activities in intestinal caco-2 cells. J Med Food. 2012; 15(3): 242-252.
- Toden S, et al. Essential turmeric oils enhance anti-inflammatory efficacy of curcumin in dextran sulfate sodium-induced colitis. Sci Rep. 2017; 7: 814.
- Nampoothiri SV, et al. Antidiabetic and antioxidant potentials of spent turmeric oleoresin, a by-product from curcumin production industry. Asian Pac J Trop Dis. 2012; 2(Suppl 1): S169-S172.
- Stohs SJ, et al. A comparative pharmacokinetic assessment of a novel highly bioavailable curcumin formulation with 95% curcumin: A randomized, double-blind, crossover study. J Am Coll Nutr. 2018; 37(1): 51-59.
- Setthacheewakul S, et al. Development and evaluation of self-microemulsifying liquid and pellet formulations of curcumin, and absorption studies in rats. Eur J Pharm Biopharm. 2010; 76(3): 475-485.
- Shoba G, et al. Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta Med. 1998; 64(4): 353-356.
- Bomdyal RS, et al. Antibacterial activity of curcumin (turmeric) against periopathogens – An in vitro evaluation. JCRI. 2017; 4: 175-180.
- Raorane CJ, et al. Antibiofilm and antivirulence efficacies of flavonoids and curcumin against Acinetobacter baumannii. Front Microbiol. 2019; 10: 990.
- Teow SY, et al. Antibacterial action of curcumin against Staphylococcus aureus: A brief review. J Trop Med. 2016; 2016: 2853045.
- Teow SY, Ali SA. Synergistic antibacterial activity of Curcumin with antibiotics against Staphylococcus aureus. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2015; 28(6): 2109-2114.
- Sarraf P, et al. Short-term curcumin supplementation enhances serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor in adult men and women: a systematic review and dose–response meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutr Res. 2019; 69: 1-8.
- Ng TKS, et al. Decreased serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD): A systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Mol Sci. 2019; 20(2): 257.
- Molendijk ML, et al. Serum levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in major depressive disorder: state–trait issues, clinical features and pharmacological treatment. Mol Psych. 2011; 16: 1088-1095.
- Erickson KI, et al. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor is associated with age-related decline in hippocampal volume. J Neurosci. 2010; 30(15): 5368-5375.
- Reddy PH, et al. Protective effects of a natural product, curcumin, against amyloid β induced mitochondrial and synaptic toxicities in Alzheimer’s disease. J Investig Med. 2016; 64(8): 1220-1234.
- Maiti P, et al. Solid lipid curcumin particles provide greater anti-amyloid, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects than curcumin in the 5xFAD mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. BMC Neurosci. 2018; 19(1): 7.
- Poolsup N, et al. Effects of curcumin on glycemic control and lipid profile in prediabetes and type 2 diabetes mellitus: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2019. 14(4): e0215840.
- Hodaei H, et al. The effect of curcumin supplementation on anthropometric indices, insulin resistance and oxidative stress in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized, double-blind clinical trial. Diabetol Metab Syndr. 2019; 11:41.
- Jazayeri-Tehrani SA, et al. Nano-curcumin improves glucose indices, lipids, inflammation, and Nesfatin in overweight and obese patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2019; 16: 8.
- Maiti P. Solid lipid curcumin particles induce more DNA fragmentation and cell death in cultured human glioblastoma cells than does natural curcumin. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2017; 2017: 9656719.
- Liu D, Chen Z. The effect of curcumin on breast cancer cells. J Breast Cancer. 2013; 16(2): 133-137.
- Howells LM, et al. Curcumin combined with FOLFOX chemotherapy is safe and tolerable in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer in a randomized phase IIa trial. J Nutr. 2019; 149(7): 1133-1139.
- Shakibaei M, et al. Curcumin enhances the effect of chemotherapy against colorectal cancer cells by inhibition of NF-κB and Src protein kinase signaling pathways. PLoS One. 2013; 8(2): e57218.
- He B, et al. Synergistic anticancer effect of curcumin and chemotherapy regimen FP in human gastric cancer MGC‑803 cells. Oncol Lett. 2017; 14(3): 3387-3394.
- Santos-Parker JR, et al. Curcumin supplementation improves vascular endothelial function in healthy middle-aged and older adults by increasing nitric oxide bioavailability and reducing oxidative stress. Aging (Albany NY). 2017; 9(1): 187-208.
- Qin S, et al. Efficacy and safety of turmeric and curcumin in lowering blood lipid levels in patients with cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutr J. 2017; 16: 68.
- Fournier JC, et al. Antidepressant drug effects and depression severity: A patient-level meta-analysis. JAMA. 2010. 303(1): 47-53.
- Ng QX, et al. Clinical use of curcumin in depression: A meta-analysis. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2017; 18(6): 503-508.
- Fan C, et al. Neuroprotective effects of curcumin on IL-1β-induced neuronal apoptosis and depression-like behaviors caused by chronic stress in rats. Front Cell Neurosci. 2019; 12: 516.
- Zam W. Gut microbiota as a prospective therapeutic target for curcumin: A review of mutual influence. J Nutr Metab. 2018. Article ID 1367984, 11 pages.
- Ohno M, et al. Nanoparticle curcumin ameliorates experimental colitis via modulation of gut microbiota and induction of regulatory T cells. PLoS One. 2017; 12(10): e0185999.
- Burge K, et al. Curcumin and intestinal inflammatory diseases: Molecular mechanisms of protection. Int J Mol Sci. 2019; 20(8): 1912.
- Bielak-Zmijewska A, et al. The role of curcumin in the modulation of aging. Int J Mol Sci. 2019; 20(5): pii: E1239.
- Grabowska W, et al. Sirtuins, a promising target in slowing down the ageing process. Biogerontology. 2017; 18(4): 447-476.
- Zhu LN, et al. Curcumin intervention for cognitive function in different types of people: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Phytother Res. 2019; 33(3): 524-533.
- Small GW, et al. Memory and brain amyloid and tau effects of a bioavailable form of curcumin in non-demented adults: A double-blind, placebo-controlled 18-month trial. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2018; 26(3): 266-277.
- Daily JW, et al. Efficacy of turmeric extracts and curcumin for alleviating the symptoms of joint arthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Med Food. 2016; 19(8): 717-729.
- Shep D, et al. Safety and efficacy of curcumin versus diclofenac in knee osteoarthritis: a randomized open-label parallel-arm study. Trials. 2019; 20: 214.
- Yang M, et al. Curcumin in autoimmune and rheumatic diseases. Nutrients. 2019; 11(5): pii: E1004.
- Vollono L, et al. Potential of curcumin in skin disorders. Nutrients. 2019; 11(9): 2169.
- Liu X, et al. Protective effect of curcumin against ultraviolet A irradiation-induced photoaging in human dermal fibroblasts. Mol Med Rep. 2018; 17(5): 7227-7237.
- Bilia AR, et al. Curcumin nanoparticles potentiate therapeutic effectiveness of acitrein in moderate-to-severe psoriasis patients and control serum cholesterol levels. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2018; 70(7): 919-928.
- Antiga E, et al. Oral curcumin (Meriva) is effective as an adjuvant treatment and is able to reduce IL-22 serum levels in patients with Psoriasis Vulgaris. Biomed Res Int. 2015; 2015: 283634.