For those of you who know the answer to that, just scroll past the next two paragraphs.
That’s a question I am frequently asked by my subscribers and readers who are confused between turmeric and curcumin. It doesn’t surprise me, even the researchers get it wrong.
Turmeric is the whole plant rhizome with all its constituents intact and curcumin is but one – albeit, potent – ‘active ingredient’. All constituents in turmeric are ‘active’, by the way.
I would like to point to junk journalism for being sloppy about interchanging the words, but even scientists and researchers are guilty of misusing them. I have read many, many medical and scientific papers from respected sources that confuse the two words, using them interchangeably, which further confuses the reader. This of course gets carried over into the mainstream and endures ad nauseum.
But this is not the motive behind today’s article, rather the second most frequent question I receive is if curcumin is the most studied constituent in turmeric then why not chose the curcumin capsules (typically standardized to 95%) vs. whole turmeric powder. After all, nearly all the research on turmeric concentrates on the curcumin.
In research, it is standard procedure to identify and isolate constituents of the object of study. This is to ensure that the outcomes of the studies are not influenced by other factors, so as to confirm that the isolated constituent alone is responsible for the observed results.
But this gold standard of Western research also makes for tunnel vision and a near rejection of the importance of the synergistic effect of the plant matter as a whole.
Once one refers to a particular constituent as the ‘active ingredient’ this considers the rest as insignificant. It is true that the non-volatile curcuminoids in turmeric (curcumin, demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin) are key constituents and with curcumin being the most studied of the three. However, there is a big but with that...
The volatile compounds, the turmerones, are only now being studied for their health applications such as for epilepsy and cancer. Almost laughably, one researcher observed that ‘turmerones together with curcuminoids were found to work synergistically in inhibiting cancerous cell proliferation’.
Re-read that and let that sink in a moment.
He further suggested combining them. Well, that’s what Mother Nature does with whole turmeric, doesn’t she?
More Tunnel Vision
Back to that tunnel vision mind-set I mentioned – although the purpose of study necessitates concentrating on one single constituent this does not mean that this is best practice for human long term use.
We are neither rats nor test tubes and long term use of curcumin alone has never been studied and in fact most trials were for 3 months. In spite of some patients taking curcumin capsules in high doses for 9 months or even much longer, this does not mean that it is safe.
Here again is where it is handy for the curcumin supplement companies to refer to the ‘used for thousands of years in India’ safety tagline. This is blatantly misleading (and they know that). Curcumin was never used ‘for thousands of years’ neither in Ayurvedic medicine nor for culinary use. Ever.
While the Western world has concentrated on its ‘active ingredient’ mind set since roughly mid 1800’s, in India, most studies have been on turmeric. This makes more sense as it IS a food and has been used in Ayurvedic tradition for thousands of years in its whole form and with good reason.
Consider this: It doesn’t make sense to isolate Vitamin C in oranges and discard the rest, does it? Although there are supplements of Vitamin C they are no substitute for whole food sources of Vitamin C, are they? And so it is with turmeric.
Why Curcumin Capsules Waste Your Money
…and make lots of money for the supplement companies.
The fact that curcumin is poorly absorbed is well known and a problem that I have covered in other articles about how to get around this. Research has made that their mantra and it prevails with the supplement companies who will have you believe that their unique formula of isolated piperine (a constituent of pepper), other herbs and special technology will deliver the most effective and highest absorption of curcumin.
What they don’t tell you is that no matter how you take curcumin, the body can not utilize such a concentration all at once nor are you benefiting from all the other constituents in turmeric. In fact, the excess is wasted.
When turmeric is used in cooking, as Asian cultures do, curcumin is very well absorbed along with all the other constituents. The heat treated turmeric, along with the oil used in cooking make it not only very effective and bio-available, but is also the cheapest way to benefit from it.
In my Ultimate Turmeric Guide and Protocol I do talk about very exceptional health crisis where taking curcumin capsules along with heat treated turmeric powder is suggested and I explain the protocol.
However, for all the other reasons for making turmeric part of your routine, be it for general good health maintenance or to target inflammation etc., curcumin capsules are not only unrealistic but a waste of money. Very little of it will be effective.
Why in the world would you want to buy an expensive ‘active ingredient’ when using the whole turmeric powder is
- more effective (especially when it is heat treated),
- and for just pennies…a week?
If you absolutely can not stand the taste of turmeric, there are turmeric capsules available and are also convenient for travel and taking to work.
However, the supplement companies also ask exaggerated prices for whole powder turmeric. Did you know you can easily make your own capsules? All you need is the basic (inexpensive) equipment and motivation.
Even better is using heat treated turmeric with freshly ground pepper and a non-inflammatory oil such as coconut oil. Detailed information is in my Ultimate Turmeric Guide and Protocol for how to make this potent paste in under 10 minutes.
Something else to be aware of is this: there is no official dose per illness or maintenance – there are only recommendations and much information about avoiding taking too much at one time (as this will simply be passed through). Any supplement company who implies otherwise is trying to put themselves on a par with the pharmaceutical industry. It’s a marketing ploy. Don’t fall for it, please.
The mantra is, a little and frequently throughout the day and consistency (the peak effectiveness of turmeric lasts roughly between 2-3 hours).
No matter how polished and promising the slick advertising is, at a cost of between $29 to $49 a month for the latest ‘breakthrough’ curcumin capsules promoted by a doctor or supplement company – it’s profiteering in my opinion.
The difference between pennies a day (or even a week) or $1, $1.50 and upwards a day means less food on the table for someone on a small income. Spread the word.