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Whenever western scientists discover a new natural herbal medicine they quickly try to isolate the active ingredient that makes this herb so beneficial. Then, they try to patent a process of extracting it, and make it into a drug that only they can sell. This almost always backfires, as it has done with turmeric.
As we will see in this article, and a handful of upcoming articles regarding other herbs, when you take the so-called active ingredient out of a plant, you almost always lose the most important benefits of that plant.
It is safe to say that most health-conscious people know about the benefits of turmeric, and that most are probably taking an extract of turmeric, called curcumin, rather than the raw turmeric – as the extract is thought to be a more potent form.
While curcumin is the constituent of turmeric that gives it its yellow color, it only makes up about 5% of the turmeric root. The other 95% is made up of more than 300 other constituents in turmeric that are rarely talked about. New science is suggesting that they are possibly even more potent than the curcumin on its own.
To study this, researchers took the curcumin out of the turmeric root and studied the effects of curcumin-free turmeric, and the results were surprising. The turmeric without the curcumin significantly outperformed the curcumin extract. The other constituents such as the turmerin, turmerone, elemene, furanodiene, curdione, bisacurone, cyclocurcumin, calebin A and germacrone were shown to provide more potent support for healthy blood sugar, a normal inflammation response to changes in diet and exercise, and healthy cellular division. (1)
Traditional Methods to Boost Turmeric Bio-availability
Raw turmeric root is rich in natural fatty acids that help boost increase its bio-availability by 7-8%. (4) The natural-occurring fats help slow down the liver from processing and converting the numerous turmeric constituents into water-soluble metabolites that are too easily flushed out of the body. The extract of turmeric, curcumin, is basically devoid of such fats, and much of the natural bio-availability boost of turmeric is lost in the extraction process.
Ayurvedic practitioners have much understanding around these fatty bio-available benefits, as they would commonly deliver it in a paste with ghee, which also slows down the liver’s processing time of turmeric, allowing the turmeric constituents to linger in the bloodstream much longer.
Black pepper was also used in curry powder to boost the bio-availability of turmeric. As it turns out, the peperine in black pepper is a potent inhibitor to the liver’s ability to metabolize turmeric. In fact, mixing 1 part of black pepper to 16 parts of a turmeric extract boosted bio-availability by a whopping 2000%. (2,6) In fact, numerous studies suggest the effects of raw turmeric are just as potent, if not more potent than curcumin extracts. (1)
Finally, when herbs are made into extracts, they are soaked in food-grade alcohol, killing the microbes that naturally occur which are thought to boost the bio-chemistry and potency of the plant. The understanding of how and why microbes are specifically attracted to certain plants and how these microbes boost their effectiveness and change our microbiome is under current investigation.
That said, regulatory standards for the manufacture of dietary supplements in the United States allow 1000 times more potentially beneficial microbes attached to them compared to herbal extracts of the same plant. (4,5) The microbes in the soils change from season to season, and do so in perfect synchrony with the kind of plant being harvested in that season. Disturbing this in any way may be one reason why whole herbs regularly outperform herbal extracts or isolated “active constituents.”
Turmeric Outperforms Curcumin
In one study, a whole plant extract of turmeric was compared with curcumin. Turmeric was more effective at inducing a heightened expression of perforin (a protein that plays an important role in immunity) two-fold compared to the isolated curcumin alone. (7)
In another study, a whole plant turmeric extract was shown to have twice the amount of antioxidant activity compared to isolated curcumin. (8)
Another study showed that low doses of curcuminoids from whole plant extracts administered over a longer period of time were more effective at supporting the natural drainage of dangerous toxic aggregates from the brain than high doses of isolated curcuminoids administered rapidly. (19)
Note: While there is compelling evidence that the intelligence of the whole plant is preferred over an isolated extract, for medical purposes, in order to boost a certain bio-chemical effect, there are times when curcumin and its curcuminoids would be more advantageous. That said, for everyday, or seasonal use, I suggest using raw, organic turmeric mixed with black pepper at a ratio of 16:1.
Raw Turmeric’s Resume
Turmeric has numerous well-documented and time-tested benefits, including the following: (10)
- Supports stable mood
- Boosts immunity through antioxidant activity
- Helps liver and detoxification of environmental toxins
- Helps maintain healthy lymphatic drainage
- Supports inner and outer skin health
- Maintains healthy joint function
- Supports overall intestinal health
- Boosts gallbladder & bile function
- Supports healthy blood sugar balance
- Maintains brain health & cognitive function
- Supports a normal inflammation response to changes in diet & exercise