On a quest for better health? If you’re trying to weigh up the pros and cons of curcumin vs turmeric, we’re here to help.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the key differences, health benefits, and more of this ayurvedic medicine, so you can decide which supplement you should be taking.
Is Curcumin the Same as Turmeric?
No, turmeric and curcumin are not the same thing. Turmeric is the plant and root from which curcumin is extracted. While turmeric does contain curcumin, it also contains other compounds that have many health benefits. However, curcumin is considered the primary and most active ingredient in turmeric.
When taking turmeric or curcumin supplementation for health benefits, it’s important to understand the difference between the two and choose the one that best fits your needs.
What Is Turmeric?
Turmeric is most famously known as the spice that gives your curry its infamous yellow color. This common spice, and significant curry powder ingredient, is also a flowering plant and a member of the ginger family.
Turmeric is extracted from the rhizome or root of the curcuma longa plant. This plant grows in slightly acidic, well-drained soils. It prefers sunlight for a few hours of the day, but it can also thrive in high shade.
Turmeric, native to southwestern India, has been used as traditional medicine for thousands of years.
Grown in temperatures between 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit, this yellow-orange spice has been used to treat many health conditions such as digestive issues and joint pain. Now, the potential health benefits of turmeric have caught the attention of modern science.
Although turmeric is most commonly used as a spice, it’s also sold as an herbal remedy in different forms.
For example, turmeric can be purchased as a supplement, root powder, or tincture. As more research surrounding the many benefits of turmeric is performed, this spice has become increasingly popular as a supplement.
What Is Curcumin?
Curcumin is the main bioactive substance in turmeric. Curcumin is the yellow chemical that plants in the Curcuma species produce, and it’s considered to be the most active ingredient in turmeric.
Curcumin is a phyto polyphenol pigment extracted from the plant and is credited with several positive health benefits, due to its high concentration of natural curcuminoids. It’s believed to have a range of pharmacologic properties, which we’ll explore in more detail later on.
Although curcumin is the primary compound in turmeric, it can also be purchased as a separate supplement. Curcumin can also be sold as a capsule with other elements such as black pepper extract and ginger.
What is Bioavailable Curcumin?
Bioavailable curcumin is a form of curcumin that is easier for the body to absorb and use. This is achieved through various methods such as adding turmeric oil and piperine or reducing the particle size of the compound.
These methods can increase curcumin absorption by up to 100 times compared to unformulated curcumin, making the bioavailable form of curcumin more effective for applications like pain management and tissue protection.
The Health Benefits of Turmeric
The health benefits of turmeric are long documented. Turmeric, sometimes called ‘the golden spice’, was used in traditional Indian and Eastern Asian medicine.
For thousands of years, people have relied on turmeric for relief from their ailments, but is there any real benefit to taking it? Well, science says there might be.
Turmeric as a Powerful Antioxidant
Oxidative damage is one of the most destructive processes we can experience. When our bodies experience oxidative damage, free radicals can react with our DNA, proteins, and fatty acids, which may cause several illnesses and diseases, including cancer.
There are several components in turmeric that make it a powerful antioxidant. Its antioxidant properties have the capacity to fight off free radicals in the body, which can reduce our risk of illness and disease, and even help fight off inflammation.
Turmeric for Skin Health
There is evidence to suggest that turmeric may also improve our skin health since turmeric contains a range of potent antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Which may make it a safe and effective treatment for conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, and photoaging. However, more research on turmeric is needed to confirm this.
The Health Benefits of Curcumin
Curcumin is the primary ingredient in turmeric and may be responsible for many of turmeric's health benefits. If you take curcumin on its own, you may still get the benefits above, plus some extras, including:
Curcumin for Arthritis
One randomized pilot study in people with rheumatoid arthritis found that those who took 500mg of curcumin witnessed significant improvements in their joint swelling and tenderness.
These findings suggest that curcumin may be a safe and effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, and may even be beneficial for people with other forms of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis.
Curcumin for Depression
Curcumin may also alleviate the symptoms of depression. For example, in one controlled trial, sixty participants with depression were split into three groups. Each group took either Prozac, one gram of curcumin, and Prozac and curcumin.
In just six weeks, the study revealed that those who took the curcumin supplements noted improvements in their symptoms.
However, the study found that those who took both Prozac and curcumin had the best results. Therefore, more research is needed to confirm just how effective curcumin is in this area.
Curcumin for Alzheimer's Disease
Curcumin may even reduce the build-up of amyloid plaques, a key feature of the disease.
Curcumin vs Turmeric: Which Should You Take?
Choosing the right supplement can be hard. That’s why it’s important to understand the differences between turmeric and curcumin, how they work in the body, and their benefits.
Remember: curcumin is the most active ingredient in turmeric, and turmeric and curcumin may actually provide many of the same health benefits. However, getting enough of its goodness in your body by using turmeric alone can be tough.
If turmeric is consumed on its own, it doesn’t absorb well into the bloodstream. The same is also true for curcumin supplements.
Research studies use high amounts of turmeric or curcumin, so if you want to reach these levels in your daily diet, you will need to take a lot of curcumin or turmeric supplements.
Although there’s no recommended daily guideline for how much you should take, the supplement form of either component is more powerful than ingesting just the spice.
If you’re taking turmeric and curcumin supplements, we’d advise taking them with black pepper. As mentioned, a compound in black pepper called piperine can improve turmeric and curcumin's bioavailability.
This means they’ll be more likely to absorb into your bloodstream, so you can reap the benefits you want.
Curcumin is the compound that delivers ALL the health benefits we rave about. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but this is false.
So, although you can still get benefits from consuming turmeric powder, turmeric extract, or turmeric root on its own (instead of a curcumin supplement), you might not get a high enough dose. That’s why most people choose curcumin supplements.
However, these are unlikely to give you a large enough quantity to see any benefits, which is why most people take black pepper to improve absorption.
So, if you’re comparing the benefits of curcumin vs turmeric and wondering which one to take, there’s no right or wrong answer. Because curcumin is turmerics' most active ingredient, you can get the same health benefits from either compound.
The key thing to remember is that dosage and absorption can differ. However, curcumin is likely to be more effective than consuming the spice on its own, but only if it’s taken with other ingredients, such as black pepper.