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For thousands of years, turmeric has been used both as a medicinal herb and spice in India. It is what makes curry yellow. It is only in recent years that Western scientists have discovered that the herb indeed has compounds with healing qualities. Collectively, these compounds are known as curcuminoids. Curcumin is considered as the most important of these compounds. In fact it is the primary active ingredient in the herb. It is a very powerful antioxidant and boasts of anti-inflammatory properties as well. However, at only 3% by weight, turmeric’s curcumin can be considered low.
Below we go into further detail on the different types of the highest-rated curcumin supplements, which are used in a plethora of products and brands. How they fare, as well as the pros and cons of each will be given a closer look. [no_toc]
Why Take a Curcumin Supplement?
A lot of studies on turmeric are based on the extract that is mostly made up of curcumin. Dosages typically exceed 1g each day, which is not easily achievable based only on the diet, even if a generous amount of turmeric is included. Thus, you need to supplement with turmeric extract with considerable curcumin content. Curcumin, unfortunately, is not absorbed properly into the bloodstream. To help with proper absorption, black pepper, with its piperine content can be consumed. The result would be enhanced curcumin absorption by as much as 200%.
Another idea that works to improve absorption is to ingest some whole peppercorns together with a curcumin supplement. Since curcumin is likewise fat soluble, it may also work if it is taken with a fat-rich meal. There are lots of products on the market today that are good bioavailable curcumin sources including Longvida, BioPerine, NOW Foods, Jarrow Formulas, BCM-95, Doctors Best, and Theracurmin. Read reviews about these products, and you will probably read the same things. Even generic products are available. The supplements are all based on curcumin, which may not necessarily be extracted from turmeric, and typically have one other ingredient that respective manufacturers claim will help ensure that the main ingredient will be absorbed into your system, and will not be flushed out before the system gets to use it. The question is, how much help do these ingredients really provide, if at all? Considering the hundreds of curcumin and turmeric supplement brands on the market today, reviewing each of them would be impractical, and it is therefore be more logical if the added proprietary ingredients for the supplements are reviewed instead.
This is because, chances are, a lot of these various brands use the same 4 or 5 proprietary ingredients. They simply buy patented ingredients that are a type of curcumin or another substance that helps improve absorption. These are then incorporated into their supplements that come in pill, tablet, powder or capsule form. You can find dozens of turmeric capsules, for instance, that contain the proprietary ingredient BioPerine.
Types of Curcumin Supplements
Black PepperBioPerineLongvidaTheracuminMerivaBCM-95 Composition: 5 to 10% in commercial white and black peppers; 1 to 2 % piperine in long peppers
This non-proprietary ingredient is included on this list because it is used in a lot of low-end supplements. An alkaloid contained in black pepper, piperine is known for its ability to improve the bioavailability of a wide range of nutrients. Piperine achieves this by obstructing the key enzymes for metabolism, stopping the substances from leaving the cells, lessening intestinal activity, and enhancing useful amino acids. These effects all work to retain the substances in the cells for a longer period of time.
Based on the findings of several studies, piperine helps in the absorption of curcumin. A study done in 1988 and published in Planta Med showed that with piperine, curcumin’s bioavailability in humans rose by as much as 2000%. This is a whopping 20 times higher than taking curcumin alone. In a more recent study (2011) published by Neurotoxicity Research, piperine, when administered together with curcumin, improved the effect of the turmeric extract in a dose of 25 mg/kg, but not in a dose of 50 mg/kg. This only shows that the consumed amount has an effect on the bioavailability.
Composition: 95% piperine
Technically speaking, BioPerine is a brand of the ingredient piperine, and not the finished product. The ingredient is included in many curcumin powders and capsules to enhance absorption. Sabinsa Corporation, founded by Dr. Muhammed Majeed in 1988, is the brand owner of BioPerine. The company manufactures and distributes natural and alternative products that include minerals, cosmetics, and herbal extracts. It currently operates in 11 countries worldwide, and employs more than 1000 people. As a piperine-derivative, BioPerine complex has a patented composition and method. It went through a thorough clinical trial in the US in 1998 to validate its efficacy and safety in enhancing the bioavailability of curcumin, as well as a lot of other nutrients.
The said US clinical trial tested BioPerine absorption in humans and rats. Higher absorption rates were noted in rats for both curcumin with BioPerine, and curcumin basic. When using BioPerine, both humans and rats showed increased concentrations of curcumin in the blood. In humans, when 2g of curcumin were administered, the highest serum concentration was registered at 0.006 mg/ml. It rose to 0.18 mg/ml when 20g of BioPerine was added to curcumin. While a huge 30-fold increase was noted, the 45 to 60 min decrease is pronounced.
The 20-year BioPerine patent (5,536,506) is now expired as it was filed on February 24, 1995, along with the child patents under it. Thus, legally, Sabinsa’s composition can now be used by its competitors. However, it is still recommended to buy products that contain the branded ingredient because of the company’s proven track record of producing high quality products – more than 20 years, in fact. A company that will use the composition for the first time may not be able to produce the same quality of products. A lot of supplement manufacturers buy and use the BioPerine ingredient, which makes it possible for lesser known and cheaper brands to offer turmeric supplements as well.
Composition: 80% phospholipids, 20% curcumin
Just like BioPerine, Longvida is an ingredient brand that is available for sale to different manufacturers for use in the curcumin supplements they produce. Unlike BioPerine however, Longvida, in itself, includes curcumin. Curcumin is mixed with phospholipids, a type of lipid. A lipid, in case you do not know what it is, simply fat, although technically, phospholipids, fats, sterols, waxes, triglycerides, fat-soluble vitamins, and other similar substances are sub-categories of lipids.
The patent for Longvida curcumin (9192644) has not yet expired since it was filed only on March 6, 2006. The patent is for curcuminoid formulations that have enhanced bioavailability that are provided and made up of a glucuronidation inhibitor, curcuminoid, antioxidant, and water-soluble, pharmaceutical-grade inhibitor. A method to treat Alzheimer’s as well as other age-related diseases by administration of such a composition is likewise provided. It is worth mentioning that the company’s IP strategy focuses not only to obtain a patent for a composition to make not only more absorbable curcumin, but a treatment for certain diseases as well.
The Longvida composition is backed up by a decent amount of clinical studies and research to test its efficacy in curcumin absorptions. The company’s official website claims the formulation is 65x more bioavailable compared to basic curcumin. This is based on an article that appeared in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry in 2010 that examined the levels of curcumin in the blood both with phospholipids and without. In healthy adults, when administered on its own, plasma curcumin could not be detected while when administered as a cocktail with phospholipids, the mean peak curcumin concentration was registered at 22.43 mg/ml.
This invariably leads to a BioPerine vs. Longvida comparison. So which of the two is better? The answer is simple. Either of the two is a good choice since both can potentially improve curcumin absorption by at least a hundredfold, compared to administering curcumin alone. For people with traumatic brain injuries or brain-related disorders like Alzheimer’s, Longvida would be a logical choice simply because it is backed by studies that have proven its capability in crossing the blood-brain barrier as well as it amyloid plaque-binding properties. Because no research has been done on BioPerine’s ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, it can neither be confirmed nor denied if it can do it. However, studies have proven that BioPerine can increase the bioavailability of other nutrients like CoQ10, and not only curcumin.
Composition: 90% other curcuminoids, 10% curcumin
Also an ingredient brand just like BioPerine and Longvida, Theracumin is used by various supplement manufacturers as well. Curcumin is also included in Theracumin. The other curcuminoids included in the composition are primarily inert ingredients. These are bis-desmethoxycurcumin and desmethoxycurcumin. Together with curcumin, all three comprise the curcuminoids that are contained in turmeric naturally.
The patented form of Theracumin was developed by a Japanese bio-venture named Theravalues Corporation. The reason it is not well-known is probably because it is a relative newcomer on the market, as it was more recently patented than Longvida. Theracumin’s US patent was filed only last September 28, 2009 (application 13/497,586). What is interesting to note is that the patent does not primarily focus on healthcare or nutrition. To put it simply, the invention is said to be for a composition of turmeric pigment. It is a “way to make an extremely small-sized turmeric. (no more than 1 um.)” While it is not by itself a medical patent, the patent application was sprinkled with a lot of words to that effect. It says that the present pigment composition of the invention is superior not only in terms of coloring function, but in terms of absorbtion as well. Thus, it is also useful as a health food, and not only as a colorant.
Similar to what products that contain other ingredient brands claim, supplements containing Theracumin also say that theirs is the most bioavailable brand of curcumin supplement available on the market. To give you a better idea, take the CurcuminRich Theracumin brand, for example. On their website, they say that CurcuminRich is more bioavailable compared to other leading curcumin forms. They also say that their product has more double-blind clinical trials to back it up, and it contains microscopic particles of curcumin in a colloidal suspension that is natural that the blood can absorb faster and retain longer.
That footnotes for their claims say that based on “scientific scrutiny,” Theracumin is proven more bioavailable than other leading forms of curcumin, including regular and enhanced brands – on a ml. to ml. basis, as measured by 2014 SPINS data. They did not mention details about the scientific scrutiny, however. One can only surmise that it has some reference to the contents of the Theravalues website where 17 original papers about Theracumin are published. Thus, it would seem that their claims are founded and accurate. However, the caveat on “other leading forms of curcumin” may be somewhat misleading since it is not clear what products or brands they consider as “leading” and which are not. While they did not specifically name any brands, this review would guess it would be BioPerine and Meriva, which will be discussed a bit later in this post.
Theracumin’s other benefits include its being easily water soluble. It likewise stays dissolved, making it ideal for use in beverages. In addition, it showed remarkable stability when tested in light irradiation. This means it would probably do well when stored in translucent and transparent bottles. It also proved to be generally stable when exposed to 95 and 120 degrees C of heat, which means it can hold up when pasteurized. However, it was not tested for hotter temperatures such as those appropriate for cooking. Now if you are wondering which between Longvida and Theracumin would emerge the winner in a face-off, the former wins hands down if the main consideration is efficacy for brain disease since Longvida’s ability to cross the blood-brain barrier has been proven. However, the tables would be reversed if the primary consideration is the product’s anti-cancer properties. Theracumin is, without a doubt, superior.
Composition: 80% phospholipids, 20% curcumin
The Meriva ingredient brand is manufactured by Indena S.p.A., a privately-owned Italian firm that is known for developing plant-derived materials for nutrition, personal care, and pharmaceutical products. It has been in business for more than 90 years now. Phytosome is the name of the proprietary ingredient added to curcumin. The company uses it not only for increasing curcumin absorption in Meriva, but for a wide variety of their other products as well like ginko and green tea extract.
The Meriva patent was filed in Europe on March 9, 2006, while its US patent application was filed one year later (U.S. 12/281,994). The product’s patent application only has a single sentence abstract that says phospholipid complexes are used to increase bioavailability. The claims are more descriptive. Following are the first 3 of 9 claims.
- Phospholipid curcumin complexes of or extracts containing curcumin.
- The complexes in claim # 1, where the phospholipids used are soy phospholipids.
- The complexes of claim # 2, where the phospholipids used are picked from phosphatidyl serine, phosphatidyl choline, and phosphatidyl ethanolamine.
Simply put, it is curcumin + phospholipids (derived from soy, and different from the phospholipids in Longvida). The rest of the claims merely talk about the ratios and the production methods employed.
The bioavailabilty of supplements with Meriva is not clear, however. The company’s press releases only mention a total cucuminoid absorption by 29-fold which may translate to a 2900% increase. As cited in the section on Theracumin, aside from free curcumin, there are 2 other curcuminoids that are naturally found in turmeric – bis-desmethoxycurcumin and desmethoxycurcumin.
In one double blind, randomized crossover human study on 9 participants averaging 35 years old, each was administered with a high dose of Meriva, a low dose of Meriva, or a curcuminoid mixture that is non-formulated. The abstract of the study was published in 2011. Meriva registered a curcuminoid absorption of around 29-fold over its non-formulated curcuminoid counterpart. However, only phase 2 metabolites were detectable, and concentrations of plasma were still considerably lower than required to inhibit most anti-inflammatory curcumin targets. The phospholipid formulation amazingly improved the demethoxylated curcuminoid absorption significantly more than curcumin, with material variances in the plasma curcuminoid profile between Meriva and the non-formulated curcuminoid mixture.
The main plasma curcuminoid after the Meriva administration was demethoxycurcumin, and not curcumin. The enhanced absorption as well as the probably better profile of plasma curcuminoid might trigger Meriva’s efficacy at significantly lower doses than non-formulated curcuminoid cocktails. It would be interesting to read further studies, if any, that disprove the above findings. Because of the big unanswered question, it is difficult to understand how reviews of the Meriva supplement absolutely claim superiority over Theracumin, Longvida, and other brands.
Composition: 86% curcuminoids (bis-demethoxycurcuminoid, demethoxycurcuminoid, and curcumin – breakdown undisclosed), 7 to 9% turmeric-contained essential oils
Similar to the previous ingredients discussed, BCM-95 is sold to different supplement brands. The product is manufactured by India-based Arjuna Natural Extracts, a company established in 1992, and currently employing around 300 people including 40 R&D scientists working full-time for the company. The uniqueness of the product comes from the fact that it is 100% derived from turmeric, and does not include any additional co-factors and ingredients. It is therefore considered as a pure turmeric supplement. The 7 to 9% turmeric essential oils extracted from turmeric are lipids.
The first BCM-95 US patent was filed on May 30, 2005. The abstract of the patent application can be summed up as: a formulation for enhanced curcumin bioavailability that includes purified curcuminoid and purified turmeric essential oil. It is a methodology to prepare a formula for improved curcumin bioavailability having purified curcuminoid and purified turmeric essential oil. While the company’s website cites 14 clinical studies, only 2 pertain to bioavailability – 1 with humans and another 1 with rats. The other studies focus on BCM-95 supplements for specific medical applications such as for the urinary tract, joints, cognitive function, stress and mood, prostate, inflammatory response, liver, and breast. Visit the website in case you want more information on these studies.
So, how does BCM-95’s bioavailability fare against the others? If it is about basic curcumin, then the product is simply impressive. However, you can decide for yourself based on the results of the human trial if BCM-95 is better than Longvida, Theracumin, and BioPerine. To summarize the results of the BCM-95 clinical study on humans to determine the ingredient’s bioavailability, the composition registered a 7-fold increase in bioavailability versus administering curcumin alone. The improvement of 700% is impressive, that is if you look at it on its own. However, when you compare the figure with what the other curcumin compositions bring to the table, this may seem small-time.
Curcumin Health Benefits
Before proceeding it is important to first distinguish the differences between curcumin and turmeric. Curcumin is the active compound or ingredient in turmeric. For more than 4000 years, it has been a fixture in herbal medicine in various regions of the world. Recent studies have revealed that the compound possibly contains properties that help relieve inflammation as well as indigestion issues like bloating, dyspepsia, and gas. It is also believed to be a good remedy for stomach ulcers, ulcerative colitis, heart disease, high cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, uveitis, and blood clotting.
Curcumin also has the potential to help with neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. It likewise has antiviral and antibacterial properties. Based on preliminary results, the active ingredient in turmeric may also possess anti-cancer properties. As an antioxidant that is a rich source of ORAC (containing a value over 1,500,000 μmole TE/g), it can potentially help reduce cell and DNA damage caused by free radicals. With more research proving the benefits of including curcumin in the regular diet, the industry that revolves around the compound has started to boom. It is just a matter of choosing the product that can provide the most bioavailable dosage.
Anti-Inflammatory Benefits – In many cases, short term or acute inflammation is important as it helps the natural immune system in warding off foreign attackers, and it is crucial to damage repair as well. In the absence of inflammation, pathogens such as bacteria can easily dominate our body, which can be fatal. However, when inflammation becomes chronic and it is not properly deployed, it may attack and destroy the body’s own tissues. Low level, chronic inflammation is believed to be a key player in quite a number of chronic Western diseases. These include cancer, heart disease, diabetic nephropathy, metabolic disease and obesity, as well as Alzheimer’s disease, and other degenerative disorders.
Thus, anything that has the potential to combat chronic inflammation may help prevent and treat these conditions. Anyone who plays sports or works out knows that too much inflammation can be a bad thing. Curcumin is slowly getting the reputation of a potent anti-inflammatory substance that can match the efficacy of some anti-inflammatory medications. It is actually believed to target various stages in the inflammatory progression at the molecular level. For one, it blocks the molecule known as NF-kB that penetrates the cells’ nuclei and triggers genes linked to inflammation. NF-kb is said to figure prominently in a lot of chronic diseases. Having said that, and without going further into the complicated nature of inflammation, the most important thing to remember is that the bioactive substance curcumin, at the molecular level, battles inflammation. In fact, a lot of studies (e.g. here and here) have proven that it fares well when compared to pharmaceutical-grade anti-inflammatory medications, but without the harmful side effects.
Significantly Improves the Body’s Antioxidant Capacity – Among the main suspects that cause aging, as well as a lot diseases, is oxidative damage. The process involves extremely reactive molecules that have unpaired electrons. These are more commonly known as free radicals that are known to react to vital organic substances like proteins, DNA, and fatty acids. The role of antioxidants is to defend our body against free radicals. And because curcumin is a powerful antioxidant by virtue of its chemical structure, it is able to neutralize free radicals. At the same time, it triggers activity in the antioxidant enzymes found in the body. Thus, curcumin provides a two-way action against free radicals. First, it directly blocks the highly reactive molecules and then activates the body’s antioxidant mechanisms.
Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor Boost – This results to better brain function as well as reduced risk of brain diseases. In the past, neurons were thought to stop dividing and multiplying once a person is past early childhood. This, belief, however, has been disproven by modern science. Neurons can form new connections, and in specific parts of the brain, they are likewise capable of multiplying and increasing in numbers. This process is primarily driven by Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF), a kind of growth hormone that is found in the brain.
A lot of common brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and depression are linked to low BDNF levels. It is interesting to note that curcumin has the ability to increase the brain’s BDNF levels. Thus, it is believed to be an effective tool to delay or even reverse many brain disorders, as well as decreased brain function that comes with aging. It is also possible that curcumin can help make a person smarter and enhance memory. Considering how it affects BDNF levels, this is highly plausible, although further human controlled tests still need to be conducted. Simply put, curcumin helps boost the brain’s BDNF hormone. This results to the development of new neurons that help in the battle to stop degenerative brain function.
General Improvements That Lower the Risk of Heart Disease – Today, heart disease is seen as the largest cause of death in the whole world. For decades researchers and scientists have been studying this menace and have so far learned so much about its triggers. Heart disease is complicated, and it can be caused by different factors. Curcumin can help curb the progression of the disease. It primarily improves the endothelium function. Endothelium is the blood vessel lining. Endothelial dysfunction results to improper regulation of blood pressure, resulting to blood clotting and other contributory factors to heart disease.
Various studies point to the potency of curcumin in improving endothelial function. In one study, curcumin was shown to be as effective as exercise, and has the effects of the drug Atorvastatin in another. As previously mentioned, curcumin also helps reduce oxidation and inflammation that are both important in controlling heart disease. A study was done on 121 patients scheduled for coronary artery bypass surgery. Participants were randomly given either 4g of curcumin or placebo daily, several days before and after the scheduled procedure. The group given curcumin showed 65% less risk of suffering from a heart attack while in the hospital. Simply put, curcumin brings beneficial effects that neutralize various factors that are associated with heart disease. It is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, as well as a significant boost to the endothelium function.
Turmeric’s Role in the Prevention and Potential Treatment of Cancer – Cancer comes in various forms that have some common denominators; curcumin supplementation has the potential to affect some of them. There are various studies and research done on the beneficial herb’s possible role in the treatment of cancer. It can curb the growth, development, as well as the spread of the disease at the molecular level. It can likewise reduce angiogenesis or new blood vessel growth in tumors, and metastasis or spread of cancer. It also contributes to the demise of cancer cells. In test animals, curcumin was proven to slow down the spread of cancerous cells and curb the growth of tumors.
Whether or not high-dose curcumin mixed with an absorption enhancer such as pepper can help in the treatment of cancer in humans, still requires sufficient testing. Some evidence, however, are present that it can potentially keep cancer from developing in the first place, particularly cancers that affect the digestive system such as colorectal cancer. In a study made on 44 men who had colon lesions that can potentially be cancerous, 4g of curcumin administered daily for 1 month decreased the amount of lesions by as much as 40%. In the future, curcumin might be used in conjunction with conventional cancer treatments. While it may be quite early to say for certain, studies are currently being done in that direction, and the results indicate some promise. The bottom line is that curcumin affects molecular level changes that might help in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
Prevention and Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease – Considered as the world’s most common neurodegenerative disease, Alzheimer’s disease is the number one cause of dementia. The sad part is that there is no known good treatment for the condition at the moment. Thus, prevention of the disease is of primary importance. The good news is curcumin has shown the ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Oxidative damage and inflammation are both associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and as previously discussed, curcumin has beneficial effects on the two. One of the main characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease is the tangled build-up of protein known as amyloid plaques. Curcumin helps clear away the plaques. Further studies, however, need to be done to conclusively prove if curcumin can reverse or slow down the progress of the disease. What is clear is that curcumin is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. It is likewise proven to help achieve improvements in various stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Positive Response of Arthritis Patients to Curcumin Supplementation – Quite prevalent in Western countries, arthritis comes in different types, and usually involves some kind of joint inflammation. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin is believed to help in the treatment of arthritis, and this is backed up by numerous studies. In one study conducted on rheumatoid arthritis patients, curcumin proved to be more effective than a conventional anti-inflammatory medication. In other studies aimed at proving the effects of the extract on arthritis, improvements in different symptoms were noted. To sum it up, arthritis is commonly characterized by inflammation in the joints, and a lot of studies have shown that curcumin helps treat various symptoms of the disease. In some cases, it has been proven to be more potent than known anti-inflammatory medicines.
Amazing Effects on Depression – Curcumin has the potential to play a pivotal role in the treatment of depression. A controlled trial was performed on 60 patients who were randomly divided into 3 groups. The first group was given Prozac, the second was given 1g of curcumin, while the last group was given both curcumin and Prozac. After six weeks, the curcumin group showed improvements similar to the Prozac group, while the Prozac + curcumin group showed the most impressive improvements. The study simply proved that curcumin is an effective anti-depressant.
Depression has been linked to a shrinking hippocampus, the area in the brain that has something to do with memory and learning, as well as to lower levels of neutrotrophic factor in the brain. Curcumin can potentially reverse some of these negative changes as it is known to boost BNDF levels. Some evidence also point to curcumin having the ability to boost the brain neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. The bottom line is: curcumin has been found to be just as effective as Prozac in treating depression symptoms.
Potential in Helping Delay Aging and Fighting Age-Related Chronic Diseases – If curcumin’s benefits for cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s are indeed real, then it will be a big boost to longevity. Thus, it has become quite popular as a supplement to stop aging. As inflammation and oxidation have vital roles in the aging process, curcumin’s effects are believed to be more than just for disease prevention.
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