Turmeric, is a rhizome (A type of horizontal, usually underground stem that sends out roots and shoots from its nodes; AKA as a rootstock.) It’s related to ginger root (also a rhizome) both are classified as members of the Zingiberacaea family; it has been a stellar staple in the pharmacopeia of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic medicine for eons; It’s been in continuous use for thousands of years as a medicine, spice (curry) and yellow dye.
Curcumin and Curcuminoids
Curcumin (diferuloylmethane) is the yellow pigment found in the spice turmeric (Curcuma longa). Curcumin is one of three known curcuminoids present in turmeric, the other two being desmethoxycurcumin and bis-desmethoxycurcumin.
Scientists have still not identified all the constituents in turmeric. Researchers continue to discover new curcuminoids. Current estimations are that turmeric contains well over a hundred chemical compounds which are primarily located in the essential oil of this complex medicinal spice.
A major problem with Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is curcumin’s (CUR) low bioavailability. Curcumin is the key active constituent of Turmeric. A preponderance of animal and clinical studies reveal that the concentrations of CUR in blood plasma, urine, and peripheral tissues, if detectable at all, are extremely low regardless of dosage size.
What is Bioavailability?
According to the Merck manual, “Bioavailability refers to the extent to and rate at which the active moiety (drug or metabolite) enters systemic circulation, thereby accessing the site of action.”
Essentially, bioavailability is about how much of an ingested substance is actually absorbed by our bodies. It follows that substances with poor bioavailability will not be effective for healing purposes.
Research Confirms Turmeric’s Low Bioavailability
Numerous curcumin studies confirm that very low blood serum levels are reached when curcumin is orally administered. The majority of orally ingested curcumin gets metabolized before it reaches the bloodstream. Increasing the dose does not result in greater absorption.
The route of administration and method of preparation are major factors affecting the bioavailability or serum levels of turmeric.
Turmeric’s bioavailabity can be enhanced with the addition of specific Adjuvants.
Low Serum Concentratiions
A study on the fate of curcumin in the rat (1978) by Whalstrom and Blennow showed oral curcumin was poorly absorbed in the gut. When 1g/kg of curcumin was orally administered to the rats only a negligible amount of curcumin was found in their blood plasma. About 75% of it was excreted via the feces.
A study in 1980 by Ravindranath et al found when rats were orally administered 400 mg of curcumin, no trace of curcumin was found in the heart blood while only a small trace was found in the portal blood within 15 min to 24 hours of administration.
Another recent study by Yang et al found that when 10 mg/kg of curcumin was orally administered only 0.36 µg/ml of curcumin was found in the blood serum.
A pilot study conducted by Sharma et al. on patients with colorectal cancer. The patients were given Curcuma extract which contained 36–180 mg curcumin in proprietary capsule for 4 months. After 29 days of oral curcumin: Neither curcumin nor its metabolites were detected in the plasma, blood and urine. Although traces of curcumin and curcumin sulfate were found in feces.
In another study: Absorption and tissue distribution of curcumin in rats. Ravindranath et al found after orally administering 400 mg of curcumin to rats: “only traces of the unchanged molecule were found in the liver and kidney. At 30 min, 90% of the curcumin was found in the stomach and small intestine, but only 1% was present at 24 h. [hours].”
NOTE: Very few studies have been done on Curcumin and tissue distribution.
Metabolites are the intermediate and final products of the process known as metabolism, which is from the Greek word for “change.” Metabolism is a step-wise series of life-sustaining chemical transformations within the cells of living organisms. The term metabolites commonly refer to small molecules.
Primary metabolites are necessary for the normal growth and maintenance of life. Secondary metabolites support primary metabolite activity indirectly and serve other important ecological functions. Metabolites are a natural occurrence formed when as part of an inherent biological process that breaks down and eliminates various compounds.
Research indicates that metabolites of curcumin, instead of curcumin itself, are detected in plasma or serum following oral consumption.
The majority of studies have shown that these metabolites are actually less active or potent compared to curcumin itself.
Bottom Line: when curcumin is metabolized the potency of its metabolites are less potent than curcumin.
The intestine and liver, is where oral curcumin is conjugated (the formation of a water-soluble derivative of a chemical by its combination with another compound, such as glutathione, glucuronate, or sulfate.) into metabolites.
Based on various studies the metabolites produced are: curcumin glucuronides and curcumin sulfates or, alternately, reduced to hexahydrocurcumin(HHC) and Tetrahydrocurcumin (THC). Again most studies have shown that these metabolites are less biologically active compared to the parent compound curcumin.
Half-life is the time it takes for a drug or other ingested substance to lose half its strength. Medications with a short half-life must be taken several times a day, to maintain therapeutically effective concentrations of blood serum levels.
In contrast, medications with longer half lives maintain effective blood serum levels for much longer periods of time and can be taken less frequently.
The studies by Whalstrom and Blennow demonstrated curcumin’s rapid systemic excretion from the body or short half-life. As mentioned when 1g/kg curcumin was given orally to rats around 75% of the curcumin was excreted via the feces with only trace amounts found in the urine. A short half -life decreases Turmeric’s therapeutic effect in the body. More studies are needed in order to draw definitive conclusions about Turmeric’s half-life.
Three Easy Kitchen Table Strategies that can Skyrocket Turmeric’s Bioavailability
NOTE: Always use fresh organic, non-irradiated Turmeric powder or whole, organic turmeric root.
1) Add BLACK PEPPER to Your Turmeric
Black Pepper is a powerful medicine in its own right and a Potent Turmeric Adjuvant.
How does Black Pepper Enhance the Bioavailability of Turmeric?
“Piperine is a potent inhibitor of drug metabolism. One of the ways our liver gets rid of foreign substances is making them water soluble so they can be more easily excreted. But this black pepper molecule inhibits that process.” –Michael Greger, M.D. (Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues.)
How much Black Pepper?
“If people are given a bunch of turmeric curcumin, within an hour there’s a little bump in the level in their blood stream. We don’t see a large increase because our liver is actively trying to get rid of it. But what if the process is suppressed by taking just a quarter teaspoon’s worth of black pepper? Then you see curcumin levels skyrocket. The same amount of curcumin consumed, but the bioavailability shoots up 2000%. Even just a little pinch of pepper—1/20th of a teaspoon—can significantly boost levels. And guess what a common ingredient in curry powder is besides turmeric? Black pepper.” – Dr. Michael Greger
Black Pepper’s Side-effects
The compound Piperine in pepper significantly increases curcumin and thus Turmeric’s overall bioavailability. When pepper is freshly ground from whole peppercorns the essential oils in the pepper are more available.
Piperine is the active ingredient in black pepper; it’s what causes black pepper’s spiciness and heat.
Black pepper Chemistry
“The sharp aroma of black pepper is due to its essential oil content. Black pepper contains approximately 1.2 to 3.5% essential oil. Its key chemical constituents include: d-limonene (up to 20%), a-pinene, b-pinene, sabinene, b-caryophyllene and δ-3-carene. It is an essential oils rich in monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes (e.g. b-caryophyllene).
As a herb: Black pepper contains 5-10% pungent acid-amides (pseudoalkaloids), with piperine as its main compound and several others including piperyline, piperoleines, and piperamine. Pharmacological studies show that piperine is analgesic, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory and exhibits a depressant effect on the central nervous system.”
One Study entitled: Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers
demonstrated that when piperine was co-administered with curcumin and given to human subjects the bioavailibity of curcumin increased 2000%.
2) Add a Healthy Fat to Turmeric
Since turmeric is fat-soluble, in order for your body to fully absorb it and experience its amazing health benefits, Turmeric needs to be combined with a fat.
“When it doesn’t dissolve properly, curcumin has a tough time getting into the gut, which is where most of the immune system lives. “80 percent of your immune system is located in your digestive system, making a healthy gut a major focal point if you want to maintain optimal health,” explains Dr. Joseph Mercola.
‘Another way to boost the absorption of curcumin is to consume it in the whole food, turmeric root (fresh or dried as a powder) because natural oils found in turmeric root and turmeric powder can enhance the bioavailability of curcumin seven to eight fold. When eaten with fat, curcumin can be directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lymphatic system thereby in part bypassing the liver.’ –Dr. Michael Greiger, MD
3) Heat Increases Turmeric’s Bioavalibility
Dr. Saraswati Sukumar explains how to enhance Turmeric’s bioavailability
“The potent ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which, despite its power, is not easily absorbed by the body without assistance. This is where the sauté pan and a little warm oil come into play.” Dr. Sukumar explains “I use it [turmeric] in every sauté, just a quarter teaspoon, a half teaspoon is enough. But you don’t have to use it sparingly – use it lavishly.”
“The problem with the pill is that it is very insoluble in water,” she said. “The better way to take it, I feel, is to use it in your cooking very extensively. If you have any sauté, just sprinkle it in. The moment you heat oil and add turmeric to it, it now becomes completely bio-available to you.” –Dr. Sukumar
SUMMARY: To extract the optimum benefit when consuming turmeric as a medicine
1. Activate turmeric with some cooking heat.
2. Boost turmeric’s absorption 2,000% by combining it with some freshly ground black pepper.
3. Skyrocket turmeric’s bioavailability and healing potential by mixing it with a healthy fat (such as coconut oil or ghee) some fresh ground black pepper and then gently cook cycle on medium low heat (never boil). Ghee has been used as a vehicle for medicine and as a medicine itself by Ayurvedic doctors for thousands of years.
Dosage guidelines according to the University of Maryland Medical Center
• Cut root: 1.5 – 3 g per day
• Dried, powdered root: 1 – 3 g per day
Note: If you make the Turmeric Golden Milk Recipe (above) be sure to put a teaspoon or so of the paste in a full fat milk of your choice or add some to a saute with fat to fully activate the turmeric. And make sure some black pepper to add black pepper to the paste as you make it.
Note: Do NOT use flaxseed oil. It’s toxic when heated. Best oils to use are ghee or coconut oil. The video recipe instructions advise using 70 ml oil. To keep it simple use 1/3 cup of your chosen oil.
Paul Fassa is a contributing staff writer for REALfarmacy.com. His pet peeves are the Medical Mafia’s control over health and the food industry and government regulatory agencies’ corruption. Paul’s valiant contributions to the health movement and global paradigm shift are world renowned. Visit his blog by following this link and follow him on Twitter here.