Curcumin vs Turmeric - What’s The Difference?

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    Turmeric and curcumin are terms often used interchangeably. But they shouldn’t be! Turmeric is the whole root, whereas curcumin is one of its components.

    Are you curious about the differences between curcumin and turmeric? Both have been used for centuries in traditional medicine due to the variety of health benefits, but what are the actual differences between them? In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between curcumin and turmeric so that you can make an informed decision about which one might be right for you.

    What is turmeric and curcumin?

    Turmeric is a flowering plant, Curcuma longa, that has been used for centuries in many cultures. It is most famous for its role as a spice in Indian cuisine, where it provides a signature warm and earthy flavor to many dishes. Although we commonly refer to this spice as turmeric, what gives it its vibrant color and many of its health benefits is actually a compound within the spice called curcumin. Historically, these two substances have been considered to hold powerful healing properties and many studies have been conducted to research their potential health benefits.

    The connection between turmeric and curcumin

    Although many people use these terms interchangeably, it’s not entirely accurate to do so. Turmeric is a root with several beneficial properties, whereas curcumin is just one of the many active constituents found in turmeric that is responsible for its yellow pigment.

    The difference between turmeric and curcumin

    Turmeric contains several beneficial compounds , including curcuminoids, turmerones, and zingiberene. These compounds have antioxidant-like properties that help to scavenge free radicals from the body and prevent oxidative damage to cells. Curcuminoids are the most well-known compounds found in turmeric and tend to have the greatest health benefits. Curcumin is touted for its role in promoting cardiovascular health.

    Can turmeric function without curcumin?

    Yes, it is actually quite common to find stand-alone curcumin supplements. Since curcumin is the component of turmeric that offers some of the greatest researched benefits, some individuals believe that consuming turmeric alone may not provide enough curcumin to have a significant impact on their health. Therefore, many supplements are available that contain concentrated amounts of curcumin to ensure maximum effectiveness, such as curcumin extracts.

    Are there absorption differences between turmeric and curcumin?

    Turmeric and curcumin are both known to have poor oral absorption quality. That said, curcumin on its own tends to be even less absorbable than its whole root counterpart. Curcumin’s limited bioavailability makes it difficult for turmeric and curcumin to get to high enough levels in the bloodstream to be effective. This is why most formulas include something like black pepper or an extract called piperine from black pepper, which is known to significantly enhance absorption. At Care/of our turmeric supplement goes through a gentle dual extract from the turmeric root that creates the ideal active ingredient balance.

    One reason curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body is that curcumin is best dissolved in fats – a very different reality from the digestive system. It’s therefore common to mix curcumin supplements with a source of fat, such as milk, avocado, or vegetable oils to increase absorption. And in general taking curcumin or turmeric with foods can also boost the absorption.

    Health benefits

    Both turmeric and its active ingredient, curcumin, have numerous health benefits that can improve many aspects of your health. Some of the most significant benefits of turmeric and curcumin are their ability to promote cardiovascular health and manage oxidative stress which can support numerous areas in the body, and may even boost bowel motility. We will examine each of these benefits in more detail.

    Health benefits exclusively to turmeric

    One of the most prominent advantages of turmeric consumption is its ability to boost bowel motility and increase the fermentation of carbs in the colon. Improved bowel motility results in more regular bowel movements, while increased fermentation of carbs can increase the production of beneficial bacteria in our gut microbiome.

    Health benefits exclusively to curcumin

    Recent studies suggest that curcumin may have a positive effect on cardiovascular health. In particular, curcumin appears to enhance endothelial function, which is critical for maintaining healthy blood vessels. Endothelial cells line the inside of blood vessels and play an important role in regulating blood flow.

    Based on this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, a 200 mg dose of curcumin over an 8-week period may promote cardiovascular health due to its potential activity related to enhanced endothelial function in healthy adults.

    In addition to its heart-health benefits, curcumin has also been linked to improved exercise performance. Research suggests that the compound can increase nitric oxide production, which helps dilate blood vessels and enhance blood flow throughout the body during physical activity. This allows muscles to receive more oxygen and nutrients, leading to better endurance and faster recovery times.

    Shared health benefits from both turmeric and curcumin

    Most of the health benefits of turmeric and curcumin can be considered interchangeable, as they are both components of the same root. They are both powerful antioxidants that are able to reduce oxidative stress in the body by scavenging free radicals. The sources of free radicals are endless, ranging from environmental pollutants to cigarette smoke and even normal cellular functions, such as metabolism. However, when free radicals accumulate in large numbers, they can cause damage to cells and tissues. This leads to oxidative stress, which is associated with several potential health issues.

    Along with their ability to reduce oxidative stress, recent data suggests that turmeric and curcumin may have a positive effect on mood and stress response.* This may be because turmeric and curcumin contain compounds that may affect brain chemistry.

    Potential health risks and side effects from turmeric and curcumin

    One of the main concerns with using turmeric or curcumin supplements is their interaction with certain medications, particularly blood thinners, and antacids. It is always best to talk to your doctor before starting either of these supplements if you are currently taking any other medications.

    Turmeric and its major constituent, curcumin, are generally a safe root/herb, and side effects, if any, are rare. Studies on humans did not show toxic effects, and curcumin was safe at the dose of 6 g orally per day over a period of 4-7 weeks. However, some adverse effects, including gastrointestinal upset, may occur.

    Some other reports include the potential for headaches or skin changes, but it all is dependent upon the dose taken. This is why it is crucial to ensure that the supplement you are taking is of the highest quality. You want to make sure there are no unnecessary fillers, artificial colors, or additives. Additionally, since turmeric is a root, it can absorb heavy metals from the soil. That’s why it’s important to make sure that your supplement has been third-party tested.

    Turmeric or curcumin: Which one to choose?

    Extensive research and clinical trials have demonstrated the therapeutic properties of turmeric. We believe that the whole plant/root has more beneficial properties than the constituent extracted on its own. Turmeric supplements retain more of the root’s nutrients and antioxidants – the way nature intended.

    At the end of the day, it all depends on quality and purpose. When cooking, turmeric is more common, whereas when supplementing, curcumin may be the extract you come across more often.

    Final takeaways

    It is clear that turmeric and curcumin are closely related, but they should not be confused. While they have similar properties and benefits, turmeric is the entire root, while curcumin is just one of the root’s primary active components. Curcumin is an antioxidant component that is known for its powerful effects on cardiovascular health.

    It is more common to see curcumin extracts sold on their own, however, there are potentially more benefits to consuming turmeric as a whole, as there are additional antioxidants included beyond just curcumin. Most importantly, choosing a supplement that is of the highest quality is critical to ensure its safety and effectiveness. Care/of’s turmeric capsules are third-party tested and certified C.L.E.A.N.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Jordana Tobelem, RD
    Freelance Contributor
    Jordana Tobelem is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys helping others become the best versions of themselves through proper nutrition education. Jordana is passionate about promoting lifestyle changes through nutrition, physical activity, and behavior to create a superior quality of life. She uses her experience in the clinical field of dietetics to provide consulting services to an array of healthcare brands and companies. Jordana loves finding the most current research in nutrition to create meaningful content to share with her clients. Jordana has been a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics since 2018 and also holds certifications in both Personal Training and Health Coaching.