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The Turmeric/Curcumin Revolution

Recently, Innova Market Insights, a research company based in the Netherlands, looked at recent food and beverage launches with a turmeric and/or curcumin health claims. The findings showed that the total of these products grew by 79% globally from 2014 to 2015, with another 25% increase rolling in from 2015 to 2016, according to Lu Ann Williams, research manager at the firm.

Turmeric root, which is used as a spice in Indian cooking and gives curry its yellow color, has been shown in myriad evidence-based studies to contain bioactive compounds that have strong medicinal properties.

For thousands of years, turmeric has been used to treat health ailments and has a long history of use in Ayurvedic Medicine, India’s traditional medicine, and in traditional Chinese medicine, it has long been prized for treating ailments such as indigestion, skin sores and wounds. Today studies reveal that turmeric’s benefits may be far ranging--- from treating brain diseases to reducing the risk of certain cancers.

In a Nutritional Outlook article titled, “Turmeric: Trend or Here to Stay?,” American Botanical Council’s chief science officer Stefan Gafner, PhD, the Council’s chief science officer, says:

“Interest in turmeric started a while ago, but it often takes time for an ingredient to reach the critical mass of research data to attract attention. And research data increasingly implicates turmeric in everything from weight management, cardiovascular support, and enhanced cognition to reduced gastrointestinal distress and joint pain.”

How can one substance have so many healing benefits? It all boils to the main active ingredient in turmeric: curcumin, which has been shown in evidence-based studies to have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

Current studies on the benefits of turmeric focus on a class of compounds called curcuminoids The best known curcuminoid is curcumin, along with emethoxycurcumin (DMC) and bisdemethoxycurcumin (BDMC).

Most turmeric extracts and supplements available are standardized to the level of curcuminoids and are collectively known in the marketplace as curcumin (even though curcumin is also the name for one of the specific curcuminoids). In general, processed turmeric contains between 2-5% curcumin.

Curcumin’s Bioavailablity

Curcumin has been shown to have poor solubility. In studies, only a small amount of curcumin makes it into the blood stream by oral ingestion. Numerous studies, have acknowledged that once delivered to the human system by oral ingestion, even in fairly large quantities, the amount of Curcumin that actually makes it to the bloodstream may be fairly small.

However, two of the most popular ways for enhancing curcumin’s bioavailability of curcumin in supplements are the addition of adjuvants (substances that work with the body’s immune response) such as piperine and the incorporation of hydrophilic coatings. Research also shows that fats such as olive oil and coconut oil; black pepper, fats, and quercetin (a flavonoid found foods such as red grapes, onions and apples) may also improve the bioavailability of curcumin.

In the same Nutritional Outlook article mentioned above, Cheryl Myers, head of scientific affairs and education for EuroPharma (Green Bay, WI), explains:

“Curcumin fights two major causes of disease: inflammation and oxidation. That means it naturally stops tumor formation, neural degeneration, muscle and arthritis pain, and many other conditions,” she says. “While there’s still much research to be done, a casual glance at curcumin’s many abilities shows why it’s so popular.”

In addition to curcumin, the essential oils in turmeric, known as turmerones, assist curcuminoids’ transport and absorption into cells and synergistically enhance their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action.

And the research on the many health benefits of turmeric just keep on rolling in:

In a 2016 study, turmeric was shown to help reduce the symptoms of an enlarged prostate and could even have a role in preventing prostate cancer. In other studies, curcumin was shown to significantly lowered hemoglobin A1c in patients with type 2 diabetes, and was shown to be effective treatment for depression. The takeway? It looks like the turmeric “trend” is here to stay.

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