Have you ever wondered whether you should purchase a curcumin extract or plain turmeric powder in capsules? Here are a few reasons that may help you make the final decision.
Don’t have the time to read the whole article? You can skip to the summary.
Curcumin is not organic
It is almost impossible to find a certified organic curcumin supplement. The reason is because chemicals such as ethyl acetate, acetone, isopropanol, hexane and dichloromethane are used to extract the curcumin from turmeric, and since no chemicals are allowed to be used in the processing of certified organic foods, it is near impossible to find an organic curcumin.
If you do come across a company claiming that their curcumin supplement is certified organic, be sure to ask them how the curcumin is extracted from the turmeric.
Harmful solvents are used to extract Curcumin from Turmeric
A common method for extracting curcumin from turmeric is a chemical called EDC (or to be exact 1,2-dichloroethane). EDC has been found in extracts of green tea and curcumin2. So you may be wondering what is EDC and is it really that bad? Let’s take a look.
The chemical compound 1,2-dichloroethane, commonly known as ethylene dichloride (EDC), is primarily used to produce vinyl chloride. Inhalation exposure to this substance induces respiratory distress, nausea and vomiting and affects the central nervous system, liver and kidneys. It is mutagenic in animals and is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.
The TGA currently classifies 1,2-dichloroethane as a Class 1 solvent (toxic) with a concentration limit of 5ppm.
There is also a great article that was written specifically about solvents found in dietary supplements, including curcumin which you can read here.
Chemical residues are found in Curcumin supplements
As mentioned in the reason above, dangerous solvents that are used in the extraction of curcumin have been found in curcumin extracts2.
Without testing each curcumin product, it would be impossible to know how much chemical residue is in each product. Some manufacturers and/or suppliers will have certificates of analysis that will show the quality and characteristics of the curcumin in their product, and may show solvent residues.
In one article on quality assurance for curcumin and possible solvent residues, the author found many curcumin supplements with 1,2-dichloroethane up to 3,200ppm. It is also mentioned in the article that dichloroethane has been found in breast milk, most likely from mothers who have consumed products containing this chemical. This could have serious health risks for breast feeding infants with one study suggesting that it may cause heart defects of foetuses.
Curcumin is not well absorbed
It has been well established that curcumin is poorly absorbed when taken by itself. In fact, the most common side effects from curcumin supplementation are diarrhoea, nausea and increased frequency in bowel movements, due to the curcumin not absorbing into the blood from the small intestines.
Due to the poor absorbability of curcumin, many different curcumin formulations have been developed including curcumin in an oil base, curcumin with piperine or black pepper and phytosomal curcumin.
Curcumin is less effective than Turmeric
Of all the reasons to use turmeric instead of curcumin, this is the most important reason to understand. Curcumin is essentially a single molecule that is extracted from the root of the turmeric plant. So the question remains, is there any benefit to the rest of the turmeric root? To understand this fully, we need to dig a little deeper into the very nature of food.
There are two categories of beneficial substances in food. The first category is nutrients, either macro or micro nutrients; most people will be familiar with this as this category include vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates and protein. The second category is phytonutrients; examples of this are molecules like curcumin, turmerone, cineole, borneol, germacrone, and so on. So why is this important and what is the difference? To answer this we need to have a clearer understanding of nutrition.
Nutrients are compounds that your body needs to sustain life and if you have a deficiency of any of these nutrients, then you will start to experience functional health issues. For example, a deficiency of vitamin C will result in scurvy and a deficiency of zinc, can result in immune dysfunction, growth retardation, hair loss, impotence, brain fog, diarrhoea, skin lesions and more.
Phytonutrients are different, they are not essential and we don’t need them to survive, but it doesn’t mean they don’t play a very important role in health and wellbeing. Depending on which phytonutrient, these molecules can have profound effects in the body. The most common effect is anti-oxidant, which most people would be familiar with. But actually, phytonutrients are far more than anti-oxidants, they can directly affect very complex cellular pathways that lead to inflammation, gene expression, immune modulation, hormone production and many aspects of metabolism. For this reason, you want more phytonutrients, not less and this is why turmeric is more powerful than curcumin. Turmeric contains over 300 different phytonutrients, all of which have some biological activity, which was just mentioned.
Curcumin is very expensive
Due to the difficulty involved in extracting curcumin from turmeric, the price of curcumin supplements compared to turmeric supplements is significant. Let’s take a look at the difference in price:
Curcumin Extract 120capsules $80.00
Turmeric Whole 120capsules $28.00
That’s almost 3 times the price for a product that can often times be less effective. Its really not worth it.
Curcumin can cause liver damage
Because curcumin is a single molecule, it acts more like a drug than herbal formula. This is great for doing studies and understanding the effects of curcumin on the body, but not so good for the liver. Curcumin is a little bit like ibuprofen (the active in Nurofen). Curcumin is much safer than ibuprofen, but when taking larger amounts, the liver still has to deal with metabolising it which is where problems can occur, especially when taking curcumin with piperine. The positive is that you absorb more curcumin, but too much puts a lot of stress on the liver, just like any molecule would. There are known cases of people on curcumin supplements with piperine causing serious liver damage.
The main thing to understand is that curcumin is a wonderful and powerful phytonutrient found in turmeric, but its better to have the curcumin while its still a part of the turmeric powder.
To summarise, curcumin is a powerful phytonutrient found in turmeric, but rather than take it extracted from turmeric, its better to have it in its natural form within the turmeric root. The reasons why are:
- Curcumin is not certified organic
- Curcumin can contain chemical residues that are used to extract it
- Curcumin is not well absorbed and is often less effective than whole turmeric
- Curcumin is much more expensive than turmeric
- Curcumin can cause liver damage if absorbed efficiently
- The Sweet Smell of Success. James Geiger, pg 205.