What is Curcumin?
Curcumin, also called diferuloylmethane, is a natural polyphenol found in turmeric, a spice that has received much interest from both the medical/scientific worlds as well as from the culinary world.
Turmeric has been traditionally used in Asian countries as a medical herb due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, antimicrobial, and anticancer properties. The reported benefits of curcumin are mainly due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
One of the problems with ingesting curcumin by itself is its poor bioavailability, which appears to be primarily due to poor absorption, rapid metabolism, and rapid elimination.
Curcumin use in other countries
Curcumin is being recognized and used worldwide in many different forms for multiple potential health benefits. For example, in India, turmeric—containing curcumin—has been used in curries; in Japan, it is served in tea; in Thailand, it is used in cosmetics; in China, it is used as a colorant; in Korea, it is served in drinks; in Malaysia, it is used as an antiseptic; in Pakistan, it is used as an anti-inflammatory agent.
In the United States it is used in coucine for mustard sauce, cheeses, butter, and many others, as a preservative and coloring agent, and recently as a supplement in capsules, tables, and powder forms.
Mechanisms of Action
Curcumin has been shown to improve systemic markers of oxidative stress. There is evidence that it can increase serum activities of antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase (SOD).
Oxidative damage is believed to be one of the mechanisms behind aging and many health conditions.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis researchers found that supplementation with curcuminoids indicated a significant effect on all oxidative stress parameters, including plasma activities of SOD and catalase.
It is important to point out that all the studies included in the analysis used some sort of formulation to overcome bioavailability challenges, some of them used piperine, an alkaloid present in black pepper.
Reactive oxygen and nitrogen species can initiate an intracellular signaling cascade that enhances pro-inflammatory gene expression. This has been identified in the development of many chronic diseases and conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepti, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and many others.
Tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α) is a major mediator of inflammation in most diseases, and this effect is regulated by the activation of the nuclear factor (NF)-κB. Whereas TNF-α is said to be the most potent NF-κB activator, the expression of TNF-α is also regulated by NF-κB.
Curcumin has been shown to block NF-κB activation increased by several different inflammatory stimuli.
Conditions that can Beneficiate from Curcumin
Osteoarthritis is a chronic joint condition that affects over 250 million people worldwide, leading to increased healthcare costs, impairment in daily living activities, and decreased quality of life.
Several studies have shown the anti-arthritic effects of curcumin in humans with OA and rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
In a randomized control study, 40 participants with mild-to-moderate knee osteoarthritis were randomly assigned to receive either curcuminoid (500 mg/day with 5 mg of piperine) or receive a placebo. The researchers found a significantly greater reduction in the pain levels of the curcuminoid group. There was also a significant improvement in the physical function scores, and a decreased systemic concentration of SOD was observed.
Another systematic review and meta-analysis showed that 8–12 weeks of standardized turmeric extracts (typically 1000 mg/day of curcumin) treatment can reduce arthritis symptoms (mainly pain and inflammation-related symptoms) and result in similar improvements in the symptoms as ibuprofen and diclofenac sodium
In metabolic syndrome (MetS), which includes insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, hypertension, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), elevated low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), elevated triglyceride levels, and obesity, curcumin has shown to attenuate several aspects by improving insulin sensitivity, suppressing adipogenesis, and reducing elevated blood pressure, inflammation and oxidative stress.
In a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial with a parallel-group design, 117 subjects with MetS received either 1 g curcumin plus 10 mg piperine to increase absorption or a placebo plus 10 mg piperine for eight weeks.
The analysis group showed significant reductions in serum TNF-α, IL-6, and transforming growth factor beta (TGF-b) following curcumin supplementation, which suggest that it can significantly decrease concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines in patients with metabolic syndrome.
The researchers also found cholesterol-lowering properties, showing benefits in the serum concentrations of LDL-C, non-HDL-C, total cholesterol, triglycerides, and lipoprotein a (Lp(a)), in addition to elevating HDL-C concentrations.
Effects on Healthy Individuals
One study on healthy adults aged 40–60 years used an 80 mg/day dose of a lipidated form of curcumin. Subjects were given either curcumin (N = 19) or a placebo (N = 19) for four weeks. The treatment was 400 mg powder per day containing 80 mg curcumin.
Curcumin significantly lowered triglyceride levels but not total cholesterol, LDL, or HDL levels. There was a decrease in beta amyloid plaque, a marker of brain aging, and in plasma alanine aminotransferase activities, a marker of liver injury. This indicates that a relatively low dose of curcumin can provide health benefits for people that do not have diagnosed health conditions.
Curcumin is generally safe. In some cases it can cause nausea and diarrhea, especially in high doses or after long-term use. Also pregnant women should not use turmeric supplements. Talk to a doctor before using turmeric supplements.
As we can see, curcumin supplementation can have many beneficial effects in our health mainly due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, and these benefits are best achieved when curcumin is combined with agents such as piperine, which increase its absorption and bioavailability significantly.
Research suggests that curcumin can help in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia. Also, a relatively low dose can provide health benefits for people that don’t have diagnosed medical conditions.
Hewlings SJ, Kalman DS. Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health. Foods. 2017;6(10):92. Published 2017 Oct 22. doi:10.3390/foods6100092.
Kris Gunnars, BSc. (20221, May 10). 10 Proven Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin. Healthline. Retrieved from: