Turmeric and curcumin are both derived from the turmeric plant, yet they are not the same thing. Turmeric is the golden-orange spice that comes from the roots of the Curcuma longa plant. It is commonly used as a cooking spice and has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. Curcumin is the main active compound found in turmeric that gives it its vibrant color and medicinal properties.
Understanding the differences between turmeric and curcumin is important, especially when looking to supplement for potential health benefits.
What is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a spice derived from the rhizomes (underground stems) of the Curcuma longa plant, which is part of the ginger family. The rhizomes are boiled, dried, and ground into a fine golden-orange powder commonly used in curry dishes, mustards, and other foods.
Turmeric has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. Historically, turmeric was used to treat inflammation, skin conditions, digestive issues, liver problems, and wounds.
In addition to curcumin, turmeric contains over 100 other active compounds including volatile oils, proteins, resins, and sugars. Some of these compounds also offer health benefits.
Key Takeaway: Turmeric is a golden spice derived from the Curcuma longa plant used for cooking and medicine. It contains curcumin plus many other active compounds.
What is Curcumin?
Curcumin is the main active compound found in turmeric that gives it its characteristic yellow color. It makes up about 2-6% of most turmeric preparations.
Curcumin belongs to a class of antioxidants known as curcuminoids. The other two curcuminoids found in turmeric are demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin. However, curcumin is considered the most potent.
Curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Most of the health benefits attributed to turmeric are due to curcumin.
Curcumin is available as a supplement on its own, without the other compounds found in turmeric. It can also be found as an additive in some foods, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals.
Key Takeaway: Curcumin is the main active compound in turmeric responsible for its health benefits. It can be taken as a supplement on its own.
Similarities Between Turmeric and Curcumin
Turmeric and curcumin share many similar health benefits, mostly related to curcumin's effects:
- Anti-inflammatory: Numerous studies show curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory compound that rivals some anti-inflammatory drugs. It can help treat arthritis, digestive issues, and autoimmune conditions.
- Antioxidant: The antioxidants in curcumin neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. This can boost immunity and support healthy aging.
- Heart health: Curcumin can improve endothelial function, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, benefitting cardiovascular health.
- Metabolic health: Studies suggest curcumin may help reduce obesity, improve insulin sensitivity, and balance blood sugar levels.
- Brain health: Curcumin has been shown to increase BDNF levels in the brain, which promotes neuron growth. It may delay cognitive decline and reduce risk of neurodegenerative disease.
Key Takeaway: Both turmeric and curcumin have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that offer many similar health benefits.
Differences Between Turmeric and Curcumin
While turmeric and curcumin share many health benefits, there are some key differences to note:
Curcumin has poor bioavailability and absorption on its own when taken orally. However, consuming turmeric with black pepper or taking a curcumin supplement combined with piperine (a black pepper extract) can significantly increase absorption.
Whole Food Benefits
Some studies suggest turmeric may offer additional benefits beyond curcumin alone. Other active compounds like aromatic turmerone and turmerin also provide health benefits and often work synergistically.
Safety and Dosing
High doses of curcumin supplements can cause mild side effects like headache and rash which is less likely with turmeric. Therapeutic doses of curcumin range from 500-2000 mg per day whereas turmeric doses are 2-3 grams per day.
Turmeric powder is very inexpensive while curcumin supplements are more costly. Turmeric offers more nutritional value for a lower cost.
Key Takeaway: Curcumin is not as bioavailable or as cost effective as turmeric. Turmeric offers additional active compounds and nutritional value.
Should You Take Turmeric or Curcumin?
For most people, taking a turmeric supplement may provide the most benefits. Since curcumin has poor absorption on its own, turmeric coupled with black pepper is the best way to maximize effects.
However, curcumin supplements may be most useful for therapeutic purposes or certain conditions. Much of the research demonstrating medicinal effects uses curcumin extracts with enhanced bioavailability.
Here are some general guidelines based on your goals:
- Overall health: Choose turmeric supplements combined with black pepper. You get the full spectrum of compounds at a lower cost.
- Strong anti-inflammatory: Use curcumin with black pepper extracts for maximal effects at higher doses.
- Cognitive health: Curcumin may be preferable, look for enhanced bioavailable forms.
- Skin health: Topical creams with turmeric offer additional antioxidant benefits.
Talk to your doctor before taking turmeric or curcumin, especially if pregnant or taking medications. They can help determine which form and dosage may be best for your health goals.
Key Takeaway: For overall health, turmeric is recommended. Curcumin may offer advantages therapeutically for specific conditions at higher doses.
Choosing a Quality Turmeric or Curcumin Supplement
Here are some tips for choosing a quality turmeric or curcumin supplement:
- Look for products with certified organic turmeric and high curcumin content.
- Select supplements with black pepper or piperine to enhance absorption.
- Make sure the supplement has passed independent quality testing.
- Read customer reviews and buy from reputable brands and suppliers.
- Avoid products with unnecessary fillers, additives, and preservatives.
- Consider high absorption formulations for maximal effects.
For turmeric supplements, look for 500-1000mg capsules with close to 95% curcuminoids. For curcumin, doses range from 500-2000mg per day. Start low and gradually increase dosage to meet your individual needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
What's better for inflammation - turmeric or curcumin?
Curcumin is considered the active anti-inflammatory compound in turmeric. Specialized curcumin supplements may provide more potent effects at higher doses. However, combining turmeric with black pepper also enhances absorption.
Is it safe to consume turmeric daily?
Yes, turmeric is very safe for daily consumption. The doses found in food and most supplements have very few side effects. Therapeutic doses up to 8g per day have been well tolerated.
How much curcumin can you safely take per day?
Studies have used curcumin dosages up to 8g per day without serious side effects. However, amounts between 500-2000mg per day are commonly recommended for therapeutic benefits. Higher does may cause digestive upset.
Does turmeric interact with any medications?
Turmeric and curcumin can interact with some medications including blood thinners, diabetes drugs, antidepressants, and NSAIDs. Check with your doctor or pharmacist for possible interactions.
Is it better to eat turmeric or take a supplement?
Taking a supplement can provide much higher amounts of curcumin compared to turmeric spice. Combining both is great for overall health - use turmeric for cooking and take a supplement as needed.
While both derived from the turmeric plant, turmeric and curcumin are not the same thing. Turmeric is the golden spice used for cooking, while curcumin is the main bioactive compound.
Curcumin gives turmeric its medicinal properties and is primarily responsible for the health benefits. Both are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and offer similar advantages.
However, curcumin has poor absorption on its own. Combining with piperine-rich turmeric or black pepper enhances effects. Plus, turmeric provides additional healthful compounds.
For most people, turmeric supplements combined with black pepper are the best option. They provide a whole food source of curcumin plus other active ingredients at a lower cost.