Curcumin has been used for more than 5,000 years in traditional medicine. Researchers and authors have published more than 3,000 studies and reviews about this compound, which is found in turmeric, with the first scientific study showing its health benefits in humans in 1937.
Here’s what you to know about curcumin’s health benefits.
Health Benefits of Curcumin
Indian, Hindu, and Ayurvedic medicine practitioners have used curcumin to treat a variety of health conditions for thousands of years, such as:
- Abdominal pain
- Inflamed sinuses
- Diabetic wounds
- Muscle and tendon injuries
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Research shows that curcumin is especially helpful for the following conditions:
Inflammation is at the core of numerous health problems, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and dementia. Because curcumin supports normal inflammation levels, it’s often used to augment other therapies for these conditions.
IBS symptoms include increased stool frequency, bloating, and abdominal pain. In one study of 105 adults with IBS, a dose of just 144 mg of turmeric extract resulted in a 60 percent decrease in symptoms.
Studies also show that curcumin may be a safe and effective way to help those with acute or chronic pain. A small study of individuals experiencing pain showed that a dose of 2 grams of curcumin phytosome — a specific form of curcumin that’s used in some nutritional supplements — led to significant relief. The results were even superior to acetaminophen.
In another study of patients with osteoarthritis, pain significantly decreased and walking performance improved with a dose of 1 gram of curcumin phytosome per day.
Muscle Soreness and Injury
Most people have experienced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) — the discomfort that occurs a day or two after an intense training session. To ease the pain, some turn to over-the-counter meds like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs.
Though NSAIDs relieve soreness and support healthy levels of inflammation, they do so at a cost: They interfere with muscle growth.
Curcumin is a natural alternative that affects a different part of the inflammatory process than NSAIDs. Research has shown that a daily dose of 2 grams of curcumin phytosome can reduce DOMS, without interfering with muscle growth.
Animal research suggests that curcumin also assists in the regeneration of muscle tissue. This makes it valuable for augmenting rehab protocols following injuries, reconstructive surgery, or other trauma.
Weight Management and Heart Health
More than 300 papers have been published about curcumin’s role in supporting weight management.
Curcumin’s effect on weight management first came to light in 1973, when research showed it could help support normal blood-sugar levels. It does so, in part, by improving beta-cell function.
- Supports healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Supports normal blood glucose and glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c)
- Decreases fatty acid synthesis (formation of new fat tissue)
- May increase adiponectin, a hormone that helps normalize body-fat levels
- May support other hormones related to obesity and metabolic syndrome
In one study, those who took 10 mg of curcumin per day for 30 days saw an increase in HDL “good” cholesterol, a drop in LDL “bad” cholesterol, and increased apolipoprotein(a) (a component of HDL).
Curcumin also seems to reduce oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which is a factor in the development of atherosclerosis. However, this research is based only on in vitro studies.
Also of interest, curcumin stimulates vasodilation, or opening of the blood vessels in a similar way to cardiovascular exercise.
Mood and Brain Health
Curcumin modulates a number of neurotransmitters, including norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin.
Norepinephrine is critical for the following:
- Attentiveness and focus
- Reaching deep sleep
- Normal mood
- Mental and physical energy
- Enhances sleep
- Reduces appetite
- Supports memory and learning
- Supports a balanced mood
- Regulates temperature
- Enhances cardiovascular function
When dopamine levels are low, people don’t experience pleasure like they normally would. They regularly feel melancholic, even when doing activities they’d normally enjoy.
Curcumin has also been shown to improve levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF helps to stimulate the development of new brain cells. This effect is similar to the benefits of aerobic exercise, which has also been shown to increase BDNF levels.
Preclinical research shows curcumin inhibits growth of certain cancer types. Because it supports normal inflammation levels, it may be beneficial in colorectal, pancreatic, breast, hepatic, oral, and prostate cancers, as well as leukemia.
Evidence suggests curcumin affects apoptosis, or programmed cell death — one of the many wonders of the body. When cells become damaged enough, they’re supposed to self-destruct and die.
When the process of apoptosis becomes dysfunctional, however, these damaged cells can lead to cancer, as well as autoimmune or degenerative diseases. Curcumin may help cells overcome their apoptosis dysfunction.
If you have cancer, talk with your doctor before using curcumin (or any other nutritional supplement) as there is some evidence that curcumin may interfere with some chemotherapy drugs.
How to Maximize Curcumin Absorption
As compelling as the research is on curcumin, the most significant issue is that it is not absorbed well on its own. Consuming curcumin or turmeric with fat, such as coconut milk, butter, or cooking oils may help with absorption when the spice is used in food.
However, plain curcumin as a supplement doesn’t offer much value because of its poor absorption. In one study, fasted people who received a dose of 2 grams of pure curcumin extract showed no detectable levels in the blood afterward. In other works, none of the curcumin, or an extremely small amount, was absorbed.
For this reason, plain curcumin extract is probably not worth investing in. Other forms of supplements are much more bioavailable, including curcumin phytosome, which I mentioned earlier.
In this form, curcumin extract is wrapped in a phosphatidylcholine matrix in a 1:2 ratio. It is one of the best-absorbed forms of curcumin as a supplement, having been shown to be 29 times better than standard curcumin extract.
In addition to increasing absorption of curcumin, phosphatidylcholine is an important nutrient for brain function.
At Life Time, we carry three products that contain curcumin phytosome:
Curcumin has a very strong safety record, and use of levels as high as 8 grams per day have been shown to be well-tolerated.
As I mentioned above, a 2 gram dose of curcumin phytosome has been shown to have a positive effect on pain. In addition, a 1 gram dose of curcumin phytosome has been found to have positive effects on those with osteoarthritis, as well as healthy individuals with delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
As with most natural products, different people will have different responses and results.
Also, people’s goals may dictate how much they use. If they’re looking for a little antioxidant boost, 200 to 500 mg of curcumin phytosome might be enough. If they’re using it following an injury or to support healthy levels of inflammation, they may need more.