Curcumin is one of the 267 compounds in turmeric. Just one. Yet it somehow it is the star.
White willow bark became reduced to acetylsalicylic acid.
Red wine got reduced to resveratrol.
Goldenseal and Oregon Grape became berberine.
Here’s the problem. There is no such thing as an “active ingredient.” This is just what we’ve been taught from chemistry courses. Active ingredients are relevant in pharmacology, where medicines are singular compounds that exert some sort of chemical action in our body.
But people with an interest in natural medicines apply the pharmacology paradigm to their choices of herbs. Herbal/plant medicine was never about pharmacology. Now with the advent of functional medicine and integrative medicine, doctors are applying the pharmacological model to plants, prescribing active ingredients in plants.
The potential drawback to this is that most active ingredients in plants are poorly absorbed. Drugs are designed to be absorbed faster and require a smaller dose than the active unaltered constituent in a plant, like say, berberine. You need 1500 mg of that daily for a few months to improve blood lipids, whereas a fraction of that dose is required for a statin to exert its effect. (I’m not pro-statin…I’m all for natural medicines).
But the most important reason I write this post, is because of the studies that aren’t done. Studies on synergy aren’t performed, and thus we are only left to wonder how the hundreds of compounds in any plant synergize with the “active ingredient.”
If we are truly interested in being “natural,” why are we forgetting about all the other compounds in the whole plant? Why are we buying essential oils and supplements that just isolate one compound from one plant? This isn’t even what we want. It’s just a product of capitalism.
The truth about curcumin
Studies were performed on curcumin with piperine, a constituent from black pepper, to examine bioavailability. It was discovered that black pepper enhanced the absorption of curcumin. As a result, people kept saying black pepper enhances turmeric absorption.
Black pepper increases the bioavailability of curcumin. But I bet that eating turmeric in its whole form enhances the bioavailability of curcumin too. There are no studies examining curcumin absorption from turmeric. Why is this?
It’s because a study on curcumin has the potential to result in a profitable supplement. That’s why there are curcumin supplements with black pepper. This supplement has been shown in small trials to reduce inflammation.
But then we end up forgetting that we can achieve this same effect with food. But since those studies don’t exist, we don’t think of the possibilities. We focus on the hype, and forget the reality, which is much simpler than you’d think.
Eat real food.
Other important constituents in turmeric
The other constituents in turmeric root according to James Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases include:
- 1,8- cineole (commonly termed eucalyptol)
- Zingiberine (found in ginger)
All of the above compounds have health benefits. But curcumin took the spotlight, got sold off as a pill, and real food was forgotten.