Curcumin is a potent antioxidant found in turmeric. This natural supplement is though to be behind many of the health benefits of turmeric, including reduced inflammation, lower levels of oxidative damage, better cognitive function, and a reduction in risk factors for chronic diseases like heart disease.
What’s behind these benefits? Our research team looked into the medical and nutritional research to discover why curcumin is so beneficial, and how you can incorporate it into your supplementation routine.
1. Curcumin is responsible for the health benefits of turmeric
Many of the benefits of turmeric, including fighting inflammation, improving brain function, reduced risk of heart disease, fighting cancer, preventing Alzheimer’s disease, depression, arthritis, and aging may be due to curcumin.
Research describes how curcumin “scavenges” oxidative stress and aggressively works to reverse it to repair the body (1).
The proactive nature of curcumin is likely what causes most of the positive health benefits seen through turmeric and curcumin use.
2. Curcumin protects your liver
Curcumin doesn’t just stop at increasing your general health, it seems to unlock greater health in your liver as well.
One review of the medical effects of curcumin looks at the liver-protecting effects curcumin can have on the body (2).
In rats given carbon tetrachloride, a mild liver poison, researchers saw their levels raising thiobarbituric acid and lipoperoxide levels (bad things) and their amounts of glutathione, vitamin C and vitamin E (good things) diminishing (3). Once curcumin is given to the patient, the health markers of liver function seem to go back to normal as the toxin, carbon tetrachloride, is cleared away (4).
3. Curcumin treats indigestion
Curcumin is also soothing for the digestive tract and can help soothe indigestion, which is why it is found in many probiotic supplements.
One study looked deeper into this and researchers found that supplementing with curcumin helped about half of hospital patients with indigestion feel better (5).
This was a double-blind study though, so looking more into the numbers and results, researchers found that there was, in fact, a significant difference between the placebo and the curcumin-treated patients when it comes to indigestion.
So, the next time you have an upset stomach definitely take a curcumin pill.
4. Curcumin soothes ulcerative colitis
In addition to treating indigestion, curcumin can go further and treat ulcerative colitis (UC).
Ulcerative colitis is a nasty disorder where you have long-term inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract which can lead to a lot of pain.
Curcumin seems like a safe and effective solution to help bring UC patients into remission or reduce symptoms.
First, researchers looked and saw that curcumin in combination with mesalamine, a typical UC drug, significantly shortened time to remission for UC patients (6).
Another study shows that supplementing with curcumin can support and maintain remission for UC patients as well to drastically reduce symptoms (7). For these results, the studies used 1.5 grams of curcumin twice a day for results.
5. Curcumin may fight rheumatoid arthritis
One of curcumin’s biggest claim to fame is fighting inflammation and treating arthritis.
One group of researchers reviewed all the papers on curcumin and arthritis and found that there is a definite connection that shows curcumin can reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (8).
Here, the studies used about 1 gram of curcumin per day to see results. But they also noted that more research needs to be done to establish a stronger link and say that curcumin can treat arthritis because the number of studies they had limited the confidence they have in their findings (9). Here, researchers used 500 mg of curcumin twice a day.
6. Curcumin reduces symptoms of osteoarthritis
Not all arthritis is the same. Rheumatoid arthritis is actually an autoimmune disease. The body is attacking its own joints leading to arthritis symptoms of soreness, pain, and limited range of motion.
On the other hand, osteoarthritis is due to overusing a joint to the point where you have actual wear and tear on the joint. This leads to bone-on-bone situations leading to soreness, pain, and limited range of motion as well.
Luckily, whichever version of arthritis you have it seems that curcumin can effectively reduce your symptoms. Here, researchers supplemented patients with about 1.5 grams per day of curcumin.
7. Curcumin helps post-workout soreness
Usually, after a training session where you incorporate new exercises or you push yourself harder to get more speed and explosiveness out of your movements, you feel that soreness the next day.
These scientists found that markers of inflammation and muscle damage in the curcumin group were lower than these same markers in the placebo group after both groups performed heavy eccentric exercises (10).
Here, the protocol was to take 500 mg of curcumin twice a day starting two days before exercise and continuing until the day after exercising.
8. You could be able to fight allergies with curcumin
Researchers discovered that curcumin can actually work to improve breathing and reduce inflammation from the nose for those with allergies (11).
So, with a daily curcumin supplement, you may be saying goodbye to seasonal allergies for good with just 500 mg of curcumin a day.
9. Curcumin could prevent Type 2 Diabetes
If you’re a prediabetic curcumin might help push you back on track to being healthy.
Curcumin given to prediabetic patients over 9 months was seen to increase insulin sensitivity by improving the function of Beta cells, the ones that produce insulin (12).
Compared to the placebo group, which had about 16% of prediabetics turn into full-blown type 2 diabetics, the curcumin group had NO patients go from prediabetic to diabetic (13).
Here, researchers split 1.5 mg of curcumin into two doses per day.
10. Curcumin improves blood pressure
There are also a few heart-healthy benefits to consuming curcumin regularly.
Especially as you age, the lining of your blood vessels seems to get worse at keeping your blood flowing. One study looked at women to test the effects of curcumin on their circulation and blood pressure.
These women were split up into the placebo group, the exercise group, and the curcumin group. At the end of 8 weeks taking a curcumin pill daily showed the same results as performing aerobic exercise (14)!
11. Curcumin treats major depression
In the past, curcumin has been linked to fighting depression. However, the studies testing this connection were too poor to find any real benefits.
Researchers gave subjects with major depression curcumin supplements over 12 weeks and tested their improvements in mood (15). They gave patients 500 mg of curcumin twice a day.
The results showed that curcumin had a significant effect on positively changing the recorded scores.
12. Curcumin boosts short-term memory
Curcumin has further brain benefits aside from destroying depression. Research supports that curcumin can actually increase something called BDNF, Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (16).
Basically, curcumin can make your brain bigger and smarter (like a nootropic).
For four weeks of supplementation, these researchers saw an increase in memory, calmness, and stress resilience (17). In the short term, researchers saw that curcumin significantly increased attention and memory compared with the placebo and they only gave patients 1 gram of curcumin a day (18).
Not only will curcumin dramatically lower inflammation and reduce your risk of disease, but also it seems to radically make you more focused and attentive to get more done.
13. Curcumin reduces cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease
In the long term, curcumin may even work to fight dementia.
Specifically, researchers looked to see how curcumin would affect Alzheimer’s disease (19). While researchers are still not sure if curcumin worked by fighting oxidative stress, reducing inflammation, or working on the cell membranes of brain tissue affected the most by Alzheimer’s, there seems to be a lack of cognitive decline over 6 months (20).
For the future, curcumin can be formulated into a pill that may even improve and reverse Alzheimer’s disease.
14. Taking curcumin with black pepper extract can boost absorption
Black pepper has an ingredient inside called piperine that protects curcumin inside the body (21).
In fact, more and more supplement companies are adding in special piperine blends to their curcumin supplements to drastically increase absorption. On study showed that piperine can increase curcumin absorption in humans as much as 2000% (22).
15. Curcumin could help increase bone density
One of the health concerns faced by older adults, and particularly older women, is low bone density, which can eventually manifest as full-fledged osteoporosis.
Some exciting new research, both in animal models and in humans, suggests that curcumin could be used to improve bone density and fight osteoporosis.
At the cellular level, evidence from a study published in International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Pathology suggests that curcumin is able to alter the activation of specific genes linked to bone microarchitecture (23).
A paper published in 2017 in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences used a curcumin-based supplement in a group of 57 people with low bone density (24).
The subjects were randomly assigned to either a curcumin supplement group or a placebo group, and took their assigned supplement every day for six months. The researchers tracked the bone density of the participants before and after the six-month study period and found that the curcumin group improved their bone density significantly compared to the control group.
While this was still a small preliminary study, the results are very promising and suggest that curcumin’s health benefits could extend significantly beyond its already powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Curcumin side effects
Curcumin can amplify the effect of prescription drugs. One of the issues with curcumin is that it is so effective it may amplify the effects of other drugs you are taking.
For example, curcumin decreases inflammation and can reduce blood clotting, but if you’re already on a blood thinning medication it can amplify those effects (25).
Another example is the curcumin decreases blood sugar and inflammation, so when you take a drug that already does this, like talinol, you will have enhanced effects that can be unexpected and even dangerous (26).
Low-quality curcumin supplements can be contaminated with manufacturing byproducts. Caution: Despite it being seen as a safe supplement, be sure you purchase curcumin for reputable buyers.
According to consumerlab.com, about 7% of imported turmeric is contaminated with salmonella and 12% of imported turmeric has “filth” (or bug parts) coming with it (27). Getting curcumin from a trusted manufacturer is the best way to avoid this problem.
Aim for 500-1000 mg of curcumin taken twice per day. Curcumin seems safe up to food-level dosages, about 15 grams, but you don’t need to take a dosage that high to see results.
Most research uses 500 mg taken twice per day, though there is quite a wide range of doses used in the scientific literature.
So, if you’re taking curcumin for general health try starting off with 0.5 grams to 1 gram a day but if you want greater effects to fight a disease then increase your dosages (28).
Because curcumin is rapidly absorbed, you should split up your dosage into at least two daily capsules. Curcumin is absorbed and excreted in under five hours in most people, so to expose your body to higher chronic levels of curcumin, a frequent dosing strategy with smaller doses is better than a single large dose once per day.
Curcumin benefits FAQ
Q: What is curcumin?
A: Curcumin is a specific molecule that is found in turmeric, a ginger-like root plant native to Asia. Curcumin is what gives turmeric its characteristic yellow-orange color, and has long been used as a spice, pigment, and traditional herbal medication.
More recently, scientific research has pegged curcumin as the compound in turmeric that could be responsible for many of the health benefits associated with turmeric.
Like other brightly colored molecules, like astaxanthin, curcumin is a powerful antioxidant, which means it fights against damage inside the body caused by free radicals.
Q: What does curcumin do?
A: Curcumin is, at its core, an antioxidant. That means that it can capture free radicals, which are molecules that can cause widespread damage throughout your body.
Other classic examples of antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, and lycopene. The antioxidant effects of curcumin go hand in hand with its ability to fight against systemic inflammation.
Many of the health benefits associated with curcumin are tied to its ability to reduce levels of inflammation, which likely explains why it can exert such broad benefits such as decreasing blood pressure, improving symptoms of depression, and potentially protecting against type two diabetes.
Q: What medications should not be taken with turmeric?
A: According to the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, curcumin (and turmeric generally) interact with three categories of medications: blood thinners such as warfarin, drugs that manipulate stomach acid levels (like nexium), and antidiabetic drugs which interact with blood sugar (29).
In all three cases, turmeric can interact with these prescription medications and either inhibit or amplify their mechanism of action, which can lead to undesirable outcomes.
As with any prescription medication, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about whether there is a potential for curcumin to interact with your medications before you start taking it. There are thousands of prescription medications on the market, so it’s possible that certain drug-supplement interactions have not been formally studied yet.
Q: How long does it take for curcumin to work?
A: After being taken in a supplement form, blood levels of curcumin rise rapidly, peaking about one to two hours after ingestion (30).
The rate at which curcumin is eliminated from the body is fairly rapid as well; even after a fairly solid dose, curcumin levels in the body are essentially back to zero within about five hours.
Q: Should you split up your doses of curcumin?
A: Because curcumin is both absorbed and excreted pretty quickly (in five hours or less), it is probably better to split up your daily intake into two doses taken at different times during the day, to maximize the amount of time that there is curcumin in your system.
Generally, dosages delivered from top-quality supplements are compatible with twice-daily or even three times daily dosing, which can maximize the efficacy of a curcumin supplement.
Q: What foods have curcumin?
A: Unlike some other antioxidants, like resveratrol or vitamin C, which are found in many different kinds of foods, turmeric is the only natural source of curcumin.
That means that you’ll only get curcumin if the food that you are eating has turmeric in it as an ingredient. Research has found that pure turmeric powder is high in curcumin, at about three percent curcumin by weight, but beyond this, even turmeric-based ingredients like curry spices are quite low in curcumin.
To ensure that foods you are eating have a solid dose of curcumin, you need to have a hefty dose of pure turmeric powder.
Related: Our best curcumin picks
Curcumin exerts powerful anti-inflammatory effects inside the body. Curcumin’s ability to fight inflammation makes it a potent supplement for a wide range of issues, from joint pain to heart health, as well as cognitive function and mood.
It’s best incorporated into your routine at doses of 500 to 1000 mg per day, split into two doses, and works best when taken alongside black pepper extract to boost absorption.