Curcumin is one of the latest super-nutrients to pique the interest of health-conscious consumers. In fact, curcumin has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Today, curcumin supplements are one of many popular, viable shortcuts to improved nutrition and wellness.

However, not all curcumin supplements are equally effective. Before you purchase curcumin, take some time to learn more about the available options. Making an informed choice is the best approach to successful management of your health and wellness.

A review of turmeric and curcumin

Curcumin and its bioactive compounds, curcuminoids, are sourced from the turmeric plant. Curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and may be one of the most broadly effective nutrients on the market. Curcumin can be helpful for many health conditions and is considered by some to be a cure-all.

Curcuma (turmeric) powder in ceramic white spoon

The roots of the turmeric plant contain only about two to five percent curcumin. Furthermore, the human gastrointestinal tract does not absorb much curcumin from turmeric alone. To achieve the health benefits of curcumin, you would have to eat large quantities of the spice, which would overpower the taste of most of the foods you enjoy and might cause stomach irritation.

Why some curcumin supplements are more effective than others are

Curcumin supplements are the logical answer. A good supplement increases the curcuminoid level from five percent to 95 percent.

The problem? Even potent curcumin supplements have very low bioavailability. In other words, they are not are not able to deliver enough active curcumin to the bloodstream to offer the full benefits.

Newer curcumin formulas that solve bioavailability issues

Scientists and manufacturers are now adding other ingredients to curcumin supplements to make the active compound more bioavailable—that is, easier to digest and use. We discuss the most common additives below.


A simple way of improving the bioavailability of curcumin is to mix it with fat. Like fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E, curcumin binds to fat, which improves the curcumin’s chance of being delivered to your cells.

Powdered curcumin can be mixed with coconut oil before ingestion. You can also take curcumin supplements with a fatty meal. However, both of these approaches require planning, meaning the supplement is not very effective as a standalone product. Newer supplements add phospholipids to curcumin to increase bioavailability.

Piperine / black pepper extract

Just as turmeric contains curcumin, black pepper contains an active substance called “piperine.” Researchers found that combining piperine with curcumin enhances the absorption of the curcumin. Although piperine was the original breakthrough for curcumin supplement formulation, it is now seen as an almost outdated way of improving curcumin bioavailability.

Unfortunately, piperine has side effects. For one, they cause your body to retain toxins and excessive levels of helpful substances (such as prescription drugs) that would normally be filtered out and excreted promptly. Long-term use of piperine could potentially overburden and damage the liver. Black pepper can also irritate the digestive tract.

Newer curcumin formulations

Modern technology allows for the creation of tiny nanoparticles, which enhance the effectiveness of numerous medications and herbs. Curcumin nanoparticles have been shown to be more available to the body.

Remember that magic level of 95 percent curcuminoids? Some curcumin supplements take potency a step further by using tetrahydrocurcuminoids (THCs), which are 250 times more potent than regular curcumin. There is a huge difference between a product that contains 95 percent curcuminoids and one that contains 95 percent THCs. Always opt for the latter if it is available.

Other recent advances in curcumin supplement formulation include the combination of curcumin with:
• Polyvinylpyrrolidone
• Whey protein
• Liquid micelles
• Oligosaccharides
• Black cumin seed oil

All of these enhanced formulas are far more effective than curcumin alone. Of particular interest is the combination of turmeric and black cumin seed oil. A study referred to by the National Institutes of Health showed that this simple, natural combination was more effective than these substances administered individually.

Aromatic black cumin seeds.

Putting it all together: purchasing curcumin supplements

When you shop for curcumin supplements, it is important to read the label of each product you are considering. Check specifically for details on bioavailability and/or absorption. A manufacturer that highlights this information has your best interest in mind.
Investigate several brands before you choose a supplement so you can make an informed choice. There is no need to rush into a purchase. The more bioavailable the ingredient is, the better value you are getting and the more benefit you will get from the product.


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