Bioavailability of Turmeric
Lab, animal, and even clinical trials in humans suggest turmeric and curcumin have promising health benefits. However, doctors and researchers say turmeric compounds have one major drawback. It has to do with how quickly turmeric compounds are metabolized and how little of its most active forms reach or stay in the bloodstream. Based on current studies, turmeric compounds do so too quickly to be an effective treatment for diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease. Pure curcumin, turmeric's primary bioactive compound, also seems to lack bioavailability because curcumin also metabolizes quickly in the gut. (i.22-26)
Why is Bioavailability Important?
How much and how long a substance stays in the body is a characteristic called bioavailability. In the case of curcumin, the original, or parent, form is considered the most beneficial and active against disease. When a compound such as curcumin is quickly broken down, or metabolized, not much of the parent form makes it into the blood and tissues. (i.22-24, 26-27)
Curcumin's parent form is an aglycone type of compound. For the most part, studies show that when curcumin is taken orally, its parent compounds quickly break down into glucuronide metabolites. These results imply that the more potent parent forms of curcumin just don't stay intact long enough to make it to organs outside the GI tract. Simply put, if curcumin can't get to organs beyond the stomach and intestines, it can't work to prevent disease in or treat them. (i.22-24, 26-27)
Turmeric Compounds Offer Health Benefits Even with Low Bioavailability
However, even though our digestive systems quickly metabolize turmeric compounds, somehow it still works. Research repeatedly shows turmeric and curcumin's benefits in organs outside the digestive system. These include measurable antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the brain, kidneys, and liver as well as to the gastrointestinal organs). (i.23, 28)
More evidence of the herb's health benefits come from initial trials in human patients. These clinical trials have documented turmeric and curcumin's cancer-fighting effects. Although preliminary, a substantial number of clinical studies suggest that turmeric compounds may help safely prevent, treat, or help treat other conditions as well, such as: (i.23, 28)
- Alzheimer's disease (i.28)
- Diabetes and insulin resistance (i.29)
- Fungal infections (i.30)
- Gastric and duodenal ulcers (i.31-33)
- Gum disease (gingivitis) (i.34)
- Hashimoto's thyroiditis (i.35)
- Psoriasis (i.36-37)
- Scabies (i.38)
- Ulcerative colitis (a form of IBD) (i.39)
In addition, researchers have found ways to increase curcumin's bioavailability with:
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