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Not all Turmeric products are equal

The following article was written by Daniel Baden and outlines many reasons why it is not a good idea to self-prescribe, buy retail products over-the-counter or on line.  Always consult a qualified natural health practitioner who uses only quality products.

Absorption of 95.5%, 96%, 98%…and so on is the current definition employed in marketing as to how ‘great’ ones turmeric /curcumin product is. There is so much more to consider, especially in the current environment where worldwide supply is stretched.  The curcumin yield from turmeric root is generally between 4-6% of which human absorption is variable.1 There are a number of factors that will contribute to absorption. In this respect interactions with the microbiome are receiving much attention.2
Each raw material supplier has its story about the superiority of their product, how they’ve managed to increase bioavailability by some percentage or how they’ve developed a “special matrix” that does something biologically magical. It really is confusing. To cut across all of the hype there should exist one critical question: What works for my patient?
As a manufacturer of natural medicines for health professionals to dispense, our reputation depends completely on developing medicines that work. “Does it work” and “is it safe” are critical determinants for us. This first priority is to seek a supplier of high repute who can document their material from growth to finished product.
The increasing popularity of turmeric has stretched worldwide supply and given opportunity to the rise of synthetic curcumin which comes complete with forged certificates of analysis. For
example, curcumin samples were confiscated by Indian Police earlier this year from a wellknown supplier. They were tested using radiocarbon techniques and found to be contaminated
with 43% non-turmeric material.3
Upon ingestion curcumin is metabolised to several active compounds such as dihydrocurcumin, tetrahydrocurcumin, hexahydrocurcumin and octahydrocurcumin.4 The eventual degradation products that form include ferulic acid and bicyclopentidione.4 Whilst these phase 1 metabolites have demonstrated beneficial biological activity, some of the phase 2 products such as curcumin glucuronides and sulphates have shown no benefit.4 This is a curiosity as whilst post ingestion blood levels are low, the majority of what is detectable is in the conjugated (phase 2)
forms as listed above.
Curcuminoids undergo rapid transformation by NADPH dependant enzymes into the most biologically active form being tetrahydrocurcumin.4 In a nutshell the therapeutically relevant goal is to increase absorption of the biologically active forms and reduce the conjugated (phase 2) forms.
This raises the next question; are we able to safely achieve the above stated goal with the current manufacturing methods available? Below is a snapshot of our considered review process when deciding which raw material to use:
Supplier #1: This material claims no less than 95% curcumin volatile compounds. This is done by
the addition of turmeric essential oil. Unfortunately there is no safety data on the oil according to a
study by Prof. Janet Funk.4
Supplier #2: This material consists of curcumin (20%), Phosphatidylcholine (40%) and microcrystalline cellulose. It claims to increase bioavailability of curcuminoids 29 fold, however what it seems to be doing is to increase concentrations of the inactive phase 2 breakdown products. Further it should be noted that phosphatidylcholine is converted by intestinal bacteria to trimethyline oxide (TMAO). Sustained increased levels of TMAO are implicated in plaque formation and CVD.4
Supplier #3: A relatively newer player to the Australian market (from Canada) uses nanotechnology and claims 27x higher bioavailability. Unfortunately this technology increases uptake of the inactive phase 2 conjugates namely glucoronides and sulphates.4 Consideration must be given to the potential side effects of a highly bioavailable curcumin that increases phase 2 conjugates such as QT prolongation and haemolysis.4
Supplier #4:
At True Medicine we choose to use only quality products for several reasons:
• A purified form of curcumin which consists of three main components in good ratio: curcumin (76.07%), bisdemethoxy curcumin (3.63%), and demethoxy curcumin (20.28%) which have all
shown independent therapeutic benefit
• It has 95% bioavailability
• It has a long history of success and safety
• Curcumin C3 Complex has more published research on it than any other curcumin material
In conclusion, the discussion over curcumin absorption percentages is inane without an understanding of the metabolite ratios created. Indiscriminately manipulating the potential bioavailability of curcumin may be a useful marketing tool, but does not necessarily yield the best product.
References available on request.