Turmeric has been used medicinally for many thousands of years, going back to ancient times in India. Curcuminoids are the compounds in turmeric that give it its vibrant orange colour - with curcumin being the most active of these.
Turmeric's popularity as a supplement has spread world wide as more and more scientific studies reveal how incredibly powerful its effects are on the body. That's the good news, the bad news is that curcumin has very low bioavailability - this means that it's difficult for the body to absorb and use. When it's combined with black pepper, however, it works like magic!
Regular consumption of turmeric has been linked to wide a range of health benefits:
- Supports and facilitates digestion, especially the digestion of fats
- Supports liver and gallbladder functions, and may prevent the accumulation of fat in the liver
- Helps to maintain the efficiency of the immune system
- Has significant antioxidant properties
- Supports the management of inflammation within the body, along multiple pathways, all at the same time
- Supports heart function and blood circulation
- Helps to protect and maintain the health of joints and bones, and their flexibility
- Supports the function of the nervous system
- May cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore may play an important role in reduction of inflammation within the brain
- May help keep skin healthy
So why is it so difficult for our bodies' to absorb and utilise curcumin
Curcumin dissolves in fat rather than in water, and due to the fact that our digestive systems are a watery environment, most of it just ends up being excreted by the body. Further to this it's rapidly metabolised in the liver and intestinal walls, and therefore only a tiny portion of it enters the bloodstream. These factors result in low bioavailability, which means that only a very small amount of curcumin is available for the body to use.
This is where black pepper comes in. Black pepper contains a constituent called piperine, which acts in the liver and helps to slow the breakdown of curcumin, leaving more available for the body to use. Confirmed by several studies, the bioavailability of curcumin has been shown to be significantly higher when combined with piperine. In fact, in one particular study in humans, it was observed that a dose of 2g curcumin with just 20 mg of piperine produced an astounding 2000% increase in bioavailability.
Black pepper also has its own health benefits to offer - including enhancing digestion, regulating nerve signals, boosting metabolism, and controlling obesity. Studies also suggest that black pepper has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties just like turmeric.
Inflammation is a normal part of the healing process, for example if you hurt yourself the body will go into healing mode and part of that will include some inflammation. However chronic inflammation is a cycle that may lead to disease, for example asthma, allergies, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.
One of the key factors in reducing these disease processes is to decrease this pattern of chronic inflammation, and curcumin helps to do this by inhibiting powerful enzymes and molecules involved in the inflammatory process.
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric has long been used in India to heal the body, fight infections, and relieve pain - many studies have shown the ability of curcumin to reduce pain, inflammation and stiffness, in both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Turmeric and black pepper together create an unbeatable combo for relief from chronic pain - piperine in black pepper activates cellular receptors (TRPV1) that set off an anti-pain reaction in the body which in turn brings about significant relief – even from nerve-related pain.
Black pepper and turmeric could be your answer to weight loss - according to research, curcumin directly interacts with fat cells, pancreatic cells, liver cells, immune system cells called macrophages, and muscle cells. It combats insulin resistance, hyperglycaemia, inflammation and other symptoms linked to obesity. Black pepper also show similar effects against obesity and insulin resistance. As turmeric needs black pepper to work, together these two form a highly effective combination to fight fat.
Mild cognitive impairment & Alzheimer’s disease
Interestingly India has a low incidence and prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease - while this may be attributed to genetics or an intake of specific foods, many people say its due to the daily intake of turmeric. It has been discovered that curcumin has the potential to cross the blood brain barrier, and then be able to have a positive influence on potential inflammation within the brain. This is showing exciting results in the treatment of mild cognitive impairment, stroke and hopefully may help in the prevention of degenerative cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Mood disorders & depression
More and more research is building to support the use of curcumin in stress and mood disorders. The mechanisms of how curcumin may work in the brain, seem to be similar biologically to how many anti-depressants work. Depression is now considered by many to be a disorder of inflammation - an area we know curcumin to excel.
Is turmeric safe?
So far there has not been any toxicity shown for curcumin and turmeric - even at high/concentrated amounts it is extremely safe to consume. In fact, many studies have found that curcumin may have an even more potent effect than some drugs, and without any of the side effects.
It is important to note however, that since curcumin has a positive effect on the gallbladder and stimulates the release of bile flow (to aid fat digestion) it may lead to an “unsettling” of the gallbladder. This is not good for those with gallstones therefore always ask for advice from your healthcare professional if you have any concerns. It is also not recommended for use during pregnancy or breast-feeding.
It really is nature's wonder herb
There are so many incredible ways curcumin can help the body, on many different levels and pathways, for a wide range of conditions. It really does seem that nature has provided us with a wonder herb, and while it has been revered for thousands of years now science is helping to unlock its secrets.
Due to the bioavailability of curcumin, make sure to choose a supplement with a superior formulation, to ensure maximum absorption and use within the body.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.