Curcumin — a yellow pigment found primarily in turmeric (a flowering plant of the ginger family best known as a spice used in curry) — is a polyphenol with anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to increase the amount of antioxidants that the body produces.
Curcumin and the curcuminoids found in turmeric can be extracted to produce supplements that have a much higher potency than turmeric. However, curcumin is absorbed poorly during digestion, so a myriad of different formulations have been created to improve its bioavailability.
Supplementation with curcumin reliably reduces markers of inflammation and increases the levels of endogenous antioxidants in the body. More research is needed on curcumin for many areas of health, but the available research supports small to moderate improvements in the symptoms of depression and anxiety and in pain and function in osteoarthritis. Reductions in LDL cholesterol, blood glucose, and blood pressure are possible, but the research on these outcomes is limited and less consistent.
One of curcumin’s greatest drawbacks is that it is poorly absorbed when orally ingested by itself. Regarding potential adverse effects, doses of up to 8 grams of curcuminoids have not been associated with serious adverse effects in humans. However, long-term studies that are more comprehensive in their assessments are needed. Studies using high doses of curcumin have reported some mild adverse effects, including nausea, diarrhea, headache, skin rash, and yellow stool. Use of curcumin with piperine (a black pepper extract) may cause adverse drug reactions because piperine greatly increases intestinal permeability. Not all formulations of curcumin have been safety tested to the same degree.
The potential beneficial effects of curcumin seem to be mainly the result of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. These properties are mediated by curcumin’s direct or indirect interaction with (and modulation of) various molecular targets, including transcription factors, enzymes, cell cycle proteins, receptors, cell surface adhesion molecules, growth factors, and protein kinases.
Our Supplement Guides give you unbiased recommendations — based on research — that you can immediately apply to improve your health. You can find curcumin in our Joint Health and Mood & Depression Supplement Guides.