The Comprehensive Guide to Turmeric and Curcumin Supplements

 
Turmeric Spice
 

Reading Time - 19 Min

Turmeric, a popular spice from India, an its derivative compound, curcumin, have become increasingly popular worldwide, especially in western cultures, as its anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-oxidant capabilities are being discovered and quantified.

Popular media health and wellness icons such as Dr. Oz, Dr. Andrew Weil, and Dr. Mercola all tout the amazing health benefits of turmeric and/or curcumin. From the podcasting sphere, Dr. Rhonda Patrick has spoken twice on the Joe Rogan Experience (#568 and #773) about curcumin, and for thousands of years Ayurvedic and Tradition Chinese Medicine have held turmeric root and its healing properties in high esteem.

Clearly this superfood can have some seriously positive health effects, but as is often the case in the health and wellness sphere, detailed information regarding how to best take turmeric and/or curcumin is completely lacking. Media icons tout ineffective juices and tonics, health and wellness advocates stick to studies, and everyone else is left scratching their heads.

This comprehensive guide to turmeric/curcumin supplements explains the different type of supplements that exist on the market, their bioavailability and whether they are effective, and provides a final, most effective supplement recommendation based on the currently available scientific data.

Most Common Turmeric Supplement Types

Let's go down the list one by one and examine the different types of turmeric supplements currently available, and seek to understand the similarities and differences between them. At the end there is an overall summary and the final recommendations we make in regards to currently available turmeric/curcumin supplements.

Turmeric Powder

 
Turmeric Powder with Spoon

Turmeric has recently become popular worldwide for it’s proven anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-oxidant effects. These positive health effects are primarily due to a suite of compounds found in turmeric called curcuminoids, the most common and potent of which being curcumin.

 

Turmeric and it's curcuminoids are incredible for improving long term health and wellness, and I consider them a must have, either daily or as part of a supplement rotation.

When it comes to the potency of turmeric supplementation, it’s difficult to quantify. We know that most of the health benefits associated with turmeric come from its curcuminoids. Curcuminoids make up ~6% of turmeric by dry weight, so in order to supplement with the effective dose of 500-1000 mg of curcumin (more information below), you would need to take 8.3 - 16.7 grams of turmeric powder to reach the proper dosing of curcumin. Taking standard 500 mg pills, you would need to take 17 - 33 pills a day! Turmeric powder itself is chock-full of vitamins and minerals, but taking that large of a dose daily probably leads to some, ahem, unintended consequences, and I do not suggest you try it. Turmeric is also highly fat soluble, and it is recommended to be taken with a fatty meal for optimal absorption.

If your goal is to specifically supplement with curcumin, then taking a standard turmeric only supplement is inefficient and unrealistic. At the same time though, by standardizing turmeric supplements to only contain 95% curcuminoids, you miss out of the wide range of other beneficial compounds that turmeric has, like it's essential oils, that have potential (and still yet unquantified) synergistic health effects when taken in their natural form. Is there a way to take whole unaltered turmeric but still receive an appropriate dose of curcuminoids with a normal amount of pills?

Dual Spectrum 4:1 Extract

One way to achieve all the synergistic health effects of turmeric while still receiving 500 mg of curcumin and only needing to take a few pills is to use a turmeric supplement which has been further concentrated through extraction.

One of the supplements I recommend in this guide for example (more on it later), Organifi’s Daily Turmeric, is a full spectrum 4:1 extract. What does that mean? Basically there are many ways to refine and purify a product. An extract is prepared using alcohol or water, and at the end of the concentration process the resulting powder is more potent. With a 4:1 full spectrum extract, Organifi has created a turmeric supplement which retains all of the beneficial compounds of the turmeric rhizome while making it 4x more potent than a standard turmeric powder/supplement.

Each 4 pill serving of Daily Turmeric contains 2000 mg of 4:1 turmeric, so the standard turmeric equivalent is 8000 mg. At 6% curcuminoids, that calculates to 480 mg of curcuminoids per serving, which is nearly the 500 mg standard dosing of curcuminoids. To read our full review on Organifi’s Daily Turmeric supplement, covering everything from its ease of use to effectiveness and price, click the button below.

Curcumin

Curcumin is the yellow to orange pigment found in turmeric. The more alkaline the curcumin the darker the color. Curcumin has a massive catalogue of studied health benefits. It's anti-inflammatory, anti-depressive, a minor antioxidant, dramatically reduces symptoms of osteoarthritis, improves prostate health, reduces mucositis, and so much more. Seriously curcumin is one of the most well researched supplements known, and the positive evidence keeps piling up.

Most pure curcumin supplements consist of a blend of different types of curcuminoids, such as curcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin (BMC), and demethoxycurcumin (DMC), which all together usually total around 500 - 750 mg. Curcumin is by far the dominant curcuminoid at 60%, with BMC and DMC coming in around ~20% each. The issue is that 500-750 mg of curcumin has nearly zero physiological effects on the body if taken by itself. Like turmeric, curcumin has terrible bioavailability, measured at less than 1%. Curcumin’s bioavailability is limited due to its poor solubility in the aqueous phase of the digestive tract. The body also rapidly metabolizes and excretes it. Bioavailability also appears to be different between the sexes, with women on average reaching double the blood concentrations of curcumin compared to men. The reason for this difference in bioavailability between the sexes is unknown.

To fix the bioavailability problem, scientists have found a variety of solutions, and supplement manufacturers have followed suit. We’ll start with the most common supplement type, turmeric/curcumin paired with piperine.

Turmeric and/or Curcumin with Piperine

 
Whole Black Pepper Corns

Piperine* is an enzyme inhibitor found in black pepper, giving black pepper its iconic smell, and it has been shown to increase the bio-availability of curcumin (and by extension, turmeric) by 20x. 2 g of curcumin paired with 20 mg of piperine resulted in a Cmax (peak serum concentration) of 489 nmol/L, but was completely non-detectable in the bloodstream after only 3 hours.

 

As a result curcumin paired with piperine had a relatively low AUC (area under the curve) of 217.2 nmol/L*H. When paired with piperine, curcumin is able to enter into the blood stream rapidly, peaking sharply about an hour after ingestion, and then is quickly metabolized.

Piperine works synergistically with curcumin, inhibiting curcumin's rabid absorption by the liver and intestinal wall. This inhibition allows curcumin to circulate into the blood stream for full body anti-inflammatory effects.

Most studies which have researched piperine's effect on curcumin absorption have used 20 mg of piperine per 2 grams of curcumin, and most supplements use 5 mg of piperine per 500 mg pill, which is the same ratio. Anecdotal user evidence supports that curcumin is still adequately absorbed at lower piperine dosages than what has been studied. As mentioned, curcumin taken without piperine (or some other bioavailibility enhancer, more below) results in curcumin concentrations in the bloodstream that are nearly undetectable, making curcumin only supplements effectively worthless (in most situations).

I personally only buy turmeric/curcumin supplements that contain as much piperine as possible. For this reason I stay away from the cheaper supplements that only contain 3 mg or less of piperine per 500 mg curcuminoids, with 5 mg of piperine being my minimum per 500 mg curcuminoids. The minimum effective dosage for curcumin is 500 mg, with more pronounced anti-inflammatory effects observed at higher dosages.

For Those with Liver and Intestinal Inflammatory Diseases

Remember when I mentioned that curcumin taken without piperine was almost exclusively absorbed by the liver and the intestinal wall? If you have an inflammation based disease such as crohn's disease, celiac disease, or liver disease, taking a curcumin supplement without piperine is probably more effective in treating a liver or intestinal disease than a curcumin supplement taken with piperine, as the curcumin will potently exert its strong anti-inflammatory effects just on the liver and gut. This can be a great strategy to use to help prevent a gut flareup (or mitigate after the fact) and as a liver protectant in anticipation of liver stress.

*Note - Most supplements which contain piperine have it labeled as "BioPerine".

Micellar Curcumin

 
Liposome, Micelle, and Bilayer Sheet Graphics

Micellar curcumin is a special type of curcumin supplement claimed to have better bioavailability that curcumin paired with piperine. Curcumin is a lipophilic molecule, making it poorly water soluble, and that in large part is why curcumin is so poorly bioavailable. A micelle as shown to the left is a collection of lipid (fat) molecules that can simultaneously interact with water and lipids. This is how soap works!

 

Through a special chemical process, curcumin molecules are contained inside micelles. Protected by the micelles which are able to interact with water soluble materials and membranes, the curcumin is much more easily transported though the digestive system and into the blood stream, dramatically improving bioavailability.

Micellar curcumin is incredibly bioavailable, more so than curcumin taken with piperine, and curcumin concentrations in the blood stream stay elevated for up to a day compared to a few hours with curcumin w/piperine supplements. This approach to increase curcumin bioavailable is completely independent of enzyme inhibitors such as piperine.

Because the addition of micelles increases the bioavailability of curcumin so dramatically, I would caution that it might be too potent, and caution is recommended. In the same study measuring micellar curcumin’s bioavailability, the researchers took note of the side effects observed. Out of 13 women and 10 men total, 7 women and 3 men experienced mild nausea. Since curcumin is ~2x more bioavailable in women in men, we’d speculate that more women experienced nausea than men because they received too much curcumin. 1 woman even vomited! The nausea so prevalent from use of the micellar curcumin did not occur when those same men and women used the other two formulations (Micronized Curcumin and Meriva® type formulation). It’s possible to have too much of something good, and that’s likely what happened with the micellar curcumin.

Fermented Turmeric

A new but growing in popularity turmeric supplement is fermented turmeric. During fermentation curcumin is metabolized by bacteria into a different yet similar compound called tetrahydrocurcumin (THCC). Typically chemical reactions result in more stable compounds, and it’s been observed that THCC is more stable than curcumin. Likely as a result of it’s increased stability, THCC has a longer half-life of 323 minutes in plasma versus 111 minutes for curcumin.

One study which measured the effect of fermented turmeric observed that 36 hours of fermentation using Aspergillus oryzae at 25°C reduced regular curcumin levels from 2.0 mg/g to 0.79 mg/g. The reduction in curcumin in fermented turmeric is offset by the creation of THCC, though the exact ratios of how fermentation converts curcumin to tetrahydrocurcumin is unknown.

Tetrahydrocurcumin appears to be more bioavailable than curcumin (in rats), but currently human studies measuring fermented turmeric’s bioavailability don’t exist. In general, its been studied that rats absorb curcumin much easier than humans, so I would take the assumption that THCC is readily bioavailable in humans (as you’ll read elsewhere) with a grain of salt, though it is likely true. Like curcumin, when consumed, THCC was found to primarily be absorbed by the intestine and liver. No studies have been performed measuring tetrahydrocurcumin’s bioavailability in humans or rats when paired with piperine or encapsulated in micelles.

As you can see fermented turmeric is highly experimental and as of now it’s scientific effects are poorly quantified. I don’t believe fermented turmeric to be unsafe in any way considering normal usage, but at lease with regular turmeric/curcumin supplementation the effects on your body are well researched, documented, and can be expected. Below are two non-comprehensive lists laid out in layman’s terms outlining some of the benefits of curcumin over THCC, and vice versa.

 

Curcumin Benefits over Tetrahydrocurcumin:

  • Curcumin was more effective than THCC in preventing skin tumors in mice

  • Curcumin was more effective than THCC as an antioxidant

  • Curcumin induced apoptosis (cellular death) of leukemia cells but THCC did not

  • Curcumin, but not THCC, was effective in reducing amyloid plaque burden and amyloid aggregation (think Alzheimers)

  • Curcumin, but not THCC, inhibited Ca(2+) influx through CRAC for activating immune cells

  • Curcumin, but not THCC, inhibited entry of hepatitis C virus genotypes into human liver cells

  • Curcumin inhibited type A influenza virus infection to a greater extent than THCC by interfering with viral hemagglutination activity (red blood cell clumping)

Tertahydrocurcumin Benefits over Curcumin:

  • THCC was more active than curcumin as an antioxidant

  • THCC was more active than curcumin for suppression of LDL oxidation

  • THCC was equal to curcumin in potency for suppression of histamine release

  • THCC was more active than curcumin in normalizing blood glucose and improvement of altered carbohydrate metabolic enzymes in diabetic animals

  • THCC was more active than curcumin in increasing plasma insulin in diabetic rats

  • THCC was more active than curcumin for antidiabetic and antihyperlipidemic (blood lipid lowering) effects

  • THCC was more active than curcumin in a hepatoprotective role in CCL4-induced liver damage in rats and alcoholic liver disease model rats

  • THCC was more active than curcumin as an antihypertensive

 

Other Turmeric Supplement Types

Micronized Curcumin

Micronized curcumin is effectively “crystallized” curcumin. The method one study used to create micronized curcumin involved mixing 25% curcumin powder with 58.3% triacetin (an anti-fungal) and 16.7% panodan (an emulsifier) and spraying and soaking the solution onto porous silicon dioxide crystals (basically glass, inactive physiologically). The resulting curcumin micronisate contained ~15% curcumin.

From that same study, micronized curcumin was found to be 9x more bioavailable than regular standardized curcumin averaged between men and women. As mentioned earlier, curcumin appears to be more bioavailable, nearly double in fact, in women compared to men.

If piperine was added to micronized curcumin it could potentially be even more bioavailable.

Curcumin with Turmeric Essential Oils

As discussed earlier, it is turmeric/curcumin’s poor water solubility that negatively affects its bioavailability. When taken with fats, curcumin’s bioavailability improves, and it is also usually the case that when a supplement is taken in its original whole form (turmeric vs standardized curcumin), a type of entourage effect occurs, where the effects of the supplement are more pronounced and holistic as the secondary compounds contribute to the overall health effect. The essential oils found within the turmeric root are some of those secondary compounds, and it’s been shown that when standardized curcumin is taken with turmeric essential oils the bioavailability of curcumin improves significantly. This increase in bioavailability is because of the synergistic effect these plant compounds exhibit, and also the fact that the essential oils add fat to the supplement, aiding assimilation into the blood stream.

This formulation is known as BCM-95® (Biocurcumax™), and it’s been shown to be 6.93x more bioavailable than standard curcumin. BCM-95® is already more bioavailable than curcumin with piperine, and if they added piperine to the BCM-95® curcumin formulation, I think the bioavailability would be improved even further, possibly even surpassing that of micellar curcumin.

Out of all the different types of curcumin supplements, the aforementioned Organifi Daily Turmeric most closely resembles BCM-95® as it contains the whole turmeric rhizome, essential oils and all, except it is also dual-extract concentrated 4x stronger to contain approximately 500 mg of curcumin. Unlike BCM-95® curcumin supplements, the Daily Turmeric also comes with 6 mg of piperine per serving, further enhancing bioavailability to unknown levels.

Curcumin with Emulsifiers (lecithins)

Emulsifiers such as lecithins have also been used in an effort to increase the bioavailibility of curcumin. The idea is that the emulsifiers help to carry the curcumin through the gut and into the bloodstream. Meriva® is one such formulation, and overall bioavailability is improved compared to just curcumin, but not by much. In one study, a reference dose of 1800 mg of standardized curcuminoids (1295 mg curcumin, 396 mg demethoxycurcumin, 108 mg bisdemethoxycurcumin), was compared to a Meriva® formulation containing 376 mg of total curcuminoids (297 mg curcumin, 68 mg demethoxycurcumin, 11 mg bisdemethoxycurcumin). Compared to the reference dose, the Meriva® formulation reached a curcumin Cmax 5.58x higher, and a curcumin AUC (area under the curve) 4.39x higher. Interestingly, the Meriva® formulation dramatically boosted the bioavailability of demethoxycurcumin (DMC), a less prominent curcuminoid. Compared to the reference dose, the Meriva® formulation reached a DMC Cmax 32x higher, and a DMC AUC 11.7x higher.

The specific physiological effects of just DMC are not well studied yet, and it is unknown why the addition of lecithins to standardized curcuminoids dramatically increases the bioavailability of DMC compared to the other curcuminoids curcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin.

Final Supplement Type Comparison (Cmax, AUC, Tmax)

Below are the different well studied curcumin supplements compared across three markers: Cmax, AUC, and Tmax. Cmax is the peak concentration reached in blood plasma. AUC (area under the curve) is the concentration in blood plasma over time. Tmax is the time it took to reach Cmax. Higher values for Cmax and AUC are typically better. A lower value for Tmax is preferred if you are looking for a fast acting curcumin supplement, lets say for immediate pain relief.

 

Cmax (nmol/L)

  • 7.1 - 2g Curcumin

  • 41.6 - 410mg Micronized Curcumin

  • 489 - 2g Curcumin, 20mg Piperine

  • 1240 - 2g BCM-95®

  • 1765 - 297mg Meriva

  • 3228 - 410mg Micellar Curcumin

AUC (nmol/L * H)

  • 65.6 - 2g Curcumin (measured for 24 hours)

  • 217.2 - 2g Curcumin, 20mg Piperine (measured to zero after 3 hours)

  • 582.7 - 410mg Micronized Curcumin (measured for 24 hours)

  • 1460.4 - 297mg Meriva (measured for 24 hours)

  • 8690 - 2g BCM-95® (measured for 8 hours)

  • 12147.7 - 410mg Micellar Curcumin (measured for 24 hours)

Tmax (H - hours)

  • 0.69 - 2g Curcumin, 20mg Piperine

  • 1.1 - 410mg Micellar Curcumin

  • 3.0 - 2g BCM-95

  • 3.8 - 297mg Meriva

  • 7.5 - 2g Curcumin

  • 7.5 - 410mg Micronized Curcumin

 

Summary

If you were to choose a turmeric/curcumin supplement based purely off of the blood markers above, micellar curcumin is the winner across all categories, with the BCM-95® formulation coming in second.

There are other important considerations besides just Cmax and AUC values though. Anytime a drug, supplement, or food is ingested, body chemistry is altered. 99.9% of the time in the case of food, if you live a healthy lifestyle and eat whole unprocessed foods, these are beneficial changes needed by your body in order to survive. Care must be taken with any type of supplementation though, as too much of even a good thing can have negative health consequences or even death. Curcumin strongly activates AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase), an very important enzyme which governs cellular energy homeostasis (aka fat oxidation or fat storage).

The worry with micellar curcumin is that curcumin concentrations in the blood are elevated too strongly and for too long, activating AMPK and other systems throughout the body too much. To strongly activate AMPK continuously everyday with a daily micellar curcumin supplement over a long duration is something that hasn’t been studied yet and the effects, positive and/or negative, are currently unknown. The high reports of side effects, specifically nausea, from the use of micellar curcumin is troubling. With a supplement to be used often, exerting caution is always the best approach. Start conservatively, gauge how it affects your body, both physiologically and psychologically, and tweak the dosing from there.

With micellar curcumin out, what do we recommend instead then?

Our Supplement Recommendations

 
Organifi Daily Turmeric Bottle with Pills

The Organifi Daily Turmeric is even better than your standard curcumin with piperine supplement. Being a dual spectrum 4:1 extract, each serving of Daily Turmeric contains ~480 mg of curcuminoids, a standard dose, but since the supplement is still effectively turmeric powder, other desirable compounds such as the turmeric essential oils are also present. As shown with the BCM-95® study, the addition of turmeric essential oils dramatically improves the bioavailability of curcumin. Pair that with the addition of 6 mg of piperine per serving and the bioavailability of the Daily Turmeric is theoretically rivaled only by micellar curcumin supplements, but without the extremely long half-life drawbacks.

 

At first glance at the ingredient label the Organifi Daily Turmeric appears to be a sub-par turmeric supplement, but after calculating the amount of curcuminoids it approximately contains (480 mg) and studying the latest turmeric/curcumin research, we are confident stating that the Daily Turmeric has a very well researched formulation and is one of the best, if not the best, turmeric/curcumin supplement currently on the market, and at a good price point too!

If you’d like to learn more about Organifi’s Daily Turmeric supplement, please read out complete Daily Turmeric review, where you’ll learn everything you’ll need to know in order to make an educated informed purchasing decision.

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Stefan Burns

Stefan Burns is the creator and main author of Wild Free Organic. A swimmer in high school, soon afterwards he discovered a passion for the health, wellness, and fitness fields. Stefan is a jack of all trades, expertly knowing how to use all the different wellness “tools” available to radically and permanently transform one’s health, from fasting and sauna usage to calisthenics and powerlifting.

To learn more about Stefan Burns visit his website or follow him on Instagram @stefanburnswellness.