Turmeric has a long history of use as both food and medicine.

There’s evidence that turmeric was used as long as 4000 years ago in India, and 2000 years ago in places like China, Africa, and parts of the Caribbean.

Today, turmeric remains one of the most popular medicinal herbs in the world — and for good reason. This orange-coloured root vegetable has a long list of benefits — which range from fighting inflammation to improving our innate stress resistance.

Curcumin is widely reported to be the main active ingredient in turmeric that provides most of these benefits. However, this isn’t the whole story.

In this article, we’re going to discuss the difference between turmeric and curcumin. We’ll also cover the pros and cons of each, and when to use each version.

Let’s get started.

What is Curcumin?

Curcumin (diferuloylmethane) is one of the active ingredients in turmeric root and one of the main reasons behind turmeric’s characteristic bright orange color. The plant’s root contains a series of similar curcuminoid compounds with their own set of benefits as well.

This compound has become increasingly popular in recent years after a great deal of research on the compound began appearing in the scientific literature.

You can now find curcumin supplements just about anywhere. It’s considered a staple in the herbal supplement space.

But why not use the whole plant? What makes this single ingredient so popular?

What Makes Curcumin So Popular? 

There are hundreds of active compounds in the turmeric root. Curcumin is just the most popular.

There’s a good reason why so many people single out curcumin from the rest of the plant.

When it comes to researching medicinal herbs, scientists will often try to identify the active ingredient first. This way, they can rule out as many variables as possible when conducting research.

Using plants in their raw form makes it very difficult to study them. Any changes the patients may experience could potentially be the result of dozens of different  compounds inside the plant.

Curcumin was isolated back in 1842 and first synthesized in 1913. From this early research, scientists have focused on it as the source of turmeric’s benefits.

This means we’ve been studying the specific effects of curcumin for well over 100 years. There’s already an incredible amount of scientific evidence for curcumins’ effects on the body — which is why so many supplement companies have focused on creating curcumin-specific extracts.

Evidence-Based Benefits of Pure Curcumin

  1. Powerful anti-inflammatory [1]
  2. Radiosensitizing activity in cancer cells (making them more susceptible to damage from radiation therapy) [2]
  3. Inhibits angiogenesis (used by cancer cells to form tumors) [3]
  4. Upregulates p53 (a transcription factor that protects genetic stability) [4]
  5. Inhibits bacterial growth [6]
  6. Disrupts the replication of HIV virus [7]
  7. Protects the liver from oxidative damage [8]

This is only a small example of the studies currently available that have explored the benefits of curcumin.

Curcumin vs. Turmeric: What’s The Difference?

While curcumin has a lot more research behind it, turmeric has a substantially longer history of use.

Curcumin supplements only became popular within the last 50 years — while turmeric has been used for over 4000 years.

While it’s much easier to study the effects of curcumin, the turmeric plant itself is widely considered to have more versatile benefits on the body.

The reason behind this is simple — turmeric contains curcumin, along with hundreds of other medicinal compounds. So you’re essentially getting the same benefits from curcumin, plus the benefits of dozens of other compounds in the plant.

The curcumin content of turmeric only accounts for about 2 – 8% of the dried root [5]. This leaves plenty of room for other beneficial compounds like turmerone, zingiberone, 1,8-cineole, alpha-phellandrene, sabinene, and various essential oils. The root is also rich in proteins, fats, minerals, carbohydrates,

Consuming the entire turmeric root provides a versatile set of benefits above and beyond what curcumin can offer.

While there are different schools of thought on this, most natural health experts that have experience using turmeric and curcumin prefer to use raw turmeric root. Although you’ll need to take larger volumes of powder (or capsules) at a time to get the same dose of curcumin, the other medicinal ingredients in the whole root provide much more versatility to the benefits of the herb.

What is Turmeric Root Used For? 

With so many benefits, turmeric root has a lot of uses — many of which may seem unrelated. These benefits are linked to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of curcumin, while others are the result of neuroprotective, cardioprotective, and relaxing benefits from other compounds in the plant.

Here are some of the most popular uses of turmeric root supplements:  

  • Joint pain (such as arthritis)
  • Indigestion/bloating
  • Inflammation in the digestive tract
  • Hormonal dysfunctions
  • Chronic pain
  • As a general health tonic
  • To improve the effectiveness of cancer therapy
  • Bacterial infections (such as strep throat)
  • Fungal infections (such as candida)
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Neurodegenerative disorders (such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease)

Why We Add Black Pepper To Our Turmeric Powder

Traditional use of turmeric often included other herbs as well — namely black pepper.

The addition of black pepper does more than improve the flavor of turmeric dishes — it makes the effects of turmeric even stronger. This is a concept called synergy — where the addition of two compounds (or plants in this case) makes the effects stronger than either of the two plants on their own.

In the case of turmeric, the main downside of the plant is that we don’t absorb the active ingredients very readily. Curcumin itself is notoriously difficult for the body to absorb — causing a lot of if to go to waste.

Black pepper contains a series of compounds (such as piperine) that can dramatically improve the absorption rate of the active ingredients in the turmeric plant. Piperine causes the epithelial cells in the gut to space apart — allowing more of the larger turmeric compounds to pass from the digestive tract to the bloodstream.

This means you need lower doses of our organic turmeric powder to receive the systemic effects than raw turmeric powder on its own.

If you’re interested in trying turmeric root powder yourself, check out our organic turmeric with ginger and black pepper capsules to get started!

References

  1. Shishodia, S., Sethi, G., & Aggarwal, B. B. (2005). Curcumin: getting back to the roots. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1056(1), 206-217.
  2. Jagetia, G. C. (2007). Radioprotection and radiosensitization by curcumin. In The Molecular Targets and Therapeutic Uses of Curcumin in Health and Disease (pp. 301-320). Springer, Boston, MA.
  3. Arbiser, J. L., Klauber, N., Rohan, R., van Leeuwen, R., Huang, M. T., Fisher, C., … & Byers, H. R. (1998). Curcumin is an in vivo inhibitor of angiogenesis. Molecular Medicine, 4(6), 376-383.
  4. Park, M. J., Kim, E. H., Park, I. C., Lee, H. C., Woo, S. H., Lee, J. Y., … & Lee, S. H. (2002). Curcumin inhibits cell cycle progression of immortalized human umbilical vein endothelial (ECV304) cells by up-regulating cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor, p21WAF1/CIP1, p27KIP1 and p53. International journal of oncology, 21(2), 379-383.
  5. Bradford, P. G. (2013). Curcumin and obesity. Biofactors, 39(1), 78-87.
  6. Bhavanishankar, T. N., & Sreenivasamurthy, V. (1979). Effect of turmeric (Curcuma longa) fractions on the growth of some intestinal and pathogenic bacteria in vitro. Indian journal of experimental biology, 17, 1363-1366.
  7. Mazumder, A., Raghavan, K., Weinstein, J., Kohn, K. W., & Pommier, Y. (1995). Inhibition of human immunodeficiency virus type-1 integrase by curcumin. Biochemical pharmacology, 49(8), 1165-1170.
  8. Reddy, A. C. P., & Lokesh, B. R. (1994). Effect of dietary turmeric (Curcuma longa) on iron-induced lipid peroxidation in the rat liver. Food and chemical toxicology, 32(3), 279-283.