Curcumin has made headlines in recent years due to the growing body of published scientific studies identifying a range of significant health benefits imparted by turmeric root extract. Thousands of years of usage in traditional medical systems, such as India’s Ayurveda, gave clues as to the safety and efficacy of Curcuma longa (turmeric), upon which modern researchers have built to develop a robust body of science. Benefits range from the well-known joint health applications, to recently identified uses for metabolic syndrome, depression, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular health, cancer, and wound healing. The powerful anti-inflammatory effects may well explain the many benefits, but the antioxidant effect undoubtedly plays a role as well.
Turmeric derives its Latin name, Curcuma longa, from the Arabic name for the plant, Kurkum and belongs to the Zingiberaceae family. Of the several phytochemicals present in turmeric, curcumin was at first thought to be responsible for most of turmeric’s health benefits after it was first isolated in 1815, and its structure delineated as diferuloylmethane in 1910. However, other active compounds were later discovered, most significantly the two other minor curcumin analogues present: demethoxycurcumin (DMC) and bisdemethoxycurcumin (BDMC). Collectively termed ‘curcuminoids’, these well-researched bioactive components were found to work synergistically.
To date, more than 7,500 scientific studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals, with more of them using Sabinsa’s Curcumin C3 Complex® than any other branded curcumin ingredient. These have undoubtedly contributed to curcumin being one of the highest selling herbs on the market today. However, with great popularity often come pitfalls, and curcumin has two: synthetic adulteration and confusing arguments about bioavailability, clouded by marketing hype.
Bioavailability refers to the quantity of the nutrient that reaches the target organ without biotransformation; for enhancing bioavailability a nutrient should remain untransformed while it passes through the gut and liver. While physical modifications may help to increase absorption, they do not necessarily increase the bioavailability.
When Sabinsa’s R&D team made investigations into ways to promote bioavailability with naturally occurring compounds, such as turmeric, they discovered that black pepper extract standardised with piperine improves bioavailability of a variety of nutrients. This led to BioPerine®, Sabinsa’s GRAS ingredient for bioavailability enhancement, which creates a window of opportunity to increase bioavailability of nutrients in the body. C3 Complex with BioPerine resolves any perceived difficulties the body has in utilising curcumin.
The second pitfall is adulteration with synthetic versions of curcumin masquerading as naturally derived. As with any popular herb, suppliers emerge trying to capitalise on the market by selling adulterated products cheaply, and it’s usually the market leaders of quality material who discover this and provide a solution. In the case of curcumin, several years ago, we unearthed synthetic curcumin on the market which was not being identified as such. Often mixed with naturally derived turmeric extract, conventional identity testing does not reveal this adulteration. Synthetic curcumin is made from fossil-fuel or petroleum-based materials in which radiocarbon is totally absent. Accelerator Mass Spectrometry can accurately assess the content of radiocarbon in a sample, readily distinguishing between a natural sample and its synthetic version. It can even determine the extent of synthetic contamination in an alleged natural product when the two are mixed. Sabinsa was the first, and so far only, curcumin supplier to test each and every batch with this method to guarantee its natural origin. Buyers should insist upon this test to determine they have sourced authentic curcumin, particularly as the US FDA does not view synthetic botanicals as legal under their regulatory framework.
Shaheen Majeed is Marketing Director at Sabinsa.