Curcumin, the bioactive component of turmeric, has a very broad-spectrum effect on the human physiology. It seems to impact every aspect of metabolism, exerting a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect that has been proven to help ward off cancer, skin disorders, pain and hundreds of conditions.
Although curcumin has been found in vivo and vitro to possess many health promoting activities, the flavonoid is considered to be poorly absorbed and therefore limited application.
However, both traditional knowledge and modern research have discovered methods to increase its bioavailability and effect in the body. In this post, we want to share with you some of that data to help you get the most out of your turmeric.
Scientific Methods for Enhancing Curcumin Absorption
According to present clinical research, there are a few methods that have been explored for increasing the bioavailability of curcuminoids in turmeric.
Here is what we know...
Oral Consumption: In most of studies done on curcumin, it has been delivered orally whether the subject was human or animal. Through oral delivered we have found that curcumin can have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antidiabetic, and antioxdiant effects.
For example, mice given 3 mg of curcumin orally had reductions of oxidative stress post exercise. In human studies, 90 mg. of curcumin taken orally 2 hours pre-workout was found to reduce oxidative stress in after exercise. The way it worked was by increasing blood antioxidant capacity. 1, 2
Oral consumption of curcumin has also been found to exert anti-inflammatory effects, specifically inhibiting inflammatory cytokines TNF, cyclooxygenase (COX)-2, and inducible nitric oxide synthase. Other clinical trials have shown that oral consumption of curcumin inhibited inflammatory molecules. 3, 4
Taking curcumin orally can even have beneficial effects for treating several types of cancer. Various studies have found that oral consumption of curcumin can inhibit many types of cancer including, cancer of lung, skin, head and neck, oral, hepatocellular carcinoma, mammary tumors, lymphomas, leukemia, and familial adenomatous polyposis. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
Lastly, the use of curcumin orally has been proven effective to treat diabetic condtions. Curcumin enhances wound repair in diabetic impaired healing. Oral curcmin improves the peripheral neuropathy of R98C mice by alleviating endoplasmic reticulum stress, reducing the activation of unfolded protein response and promoting Schwann cell differentiation. It also protects against the pulmonary and cardiovascular effects in diabetic mice 12, 13
In summary, good-ole fashioned oral consumption of curcumin has plenty of worthy benefits. However, it might be worth knowing that taking whole herb turmeric in combination with black pepper and an oil source like ghee can improve absorption of cur cumin over 2000%. This is because the whole herb (powder too) contains natural occurring oils that enhance the absorption of curcumin. So although many people will extract the curcumin from the whole herb to try an enhance its effects, doing so may result in decreased absorption. It is more economical and sensible to consume the whole herb or whole herb powder to get the turmeric oils, and to add some black pepper (peprine). 15
Subcutaneous delivery: Subcutaneous treatment of curcumin in animals has been used to provide effective and sustained tissue concentrations. Since sustained release of subcutaneously injected unformulated curcumin in animals is likely not possible, curcumin is formulated. A single subcutaneous dose of microparticles sustained curcumin in liver for nearly a month in mice . It has been also shown that the microparticle formulation of curcumin showed marked anticancer efficacy in nude mice bearing MDA-MB-231 xenografts in mice compared with controls .
Topical application: A topical treatment is a medication that is applied to body surfaces such as the skin or mucous membranes to treat ailments. Curcumin has been used topically to study its effect mostly on inflammation on target organ, wound healing, skin cancer and other. In a study it has been reported that topical use of a curcumin gel formulation strongly inhibited imiquimod-induced psoriasis-like inflammation in BALB/c mouse ear. It inhibited mRNA levels of IL-17A, IL-17F, IL-22, IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF-α cytokines in ear skin . Topical curcumin is also found to be effective in CO2 laser-induced skin wound healing. It improved re-epithelialization of wound after 7 days . It has been revealed that topical treatment of curcumin and the photoinactivation of Candida albicans in a murine model of oral candidiasis caused a significant reduction in C. albicans viability. Thus, it acts photosensitizer without harming the host tissue of mice .
Topical treatment of curcumin also inhibited ultraviolet B (UVB)-induced tumor formation in mice. Average number of tumors formed per mouse was lesser in curcumin and UVB treated mice compared to UVB exposed animals and it also delayed the onset of tumorigenesis . Beside these when curcumin applied as a noninvasive topical paste to the head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) xenografts tumors in mice, resulted in inhibition of its growth. Thus, it can be used as an adjuvant or chemopreventive agent in several cancer .
Nasal delivery: To increase the bioavailability and also direct nose-to-brain drug transport, nasal delivery of curcumin has been used. In a study, the pharmacokinetics results showed that the absolute bioavailability of curcumin in the microemulsion-based in situ ion-sensitive gelling system was 55.82% by intranasal administration. And the distribution of curcumin in brain versus blood following intranasal administration was higher than that following intravenous administration . Another study also showed that the drug-targeting efficiencies of the curcumin in the cerebrum, cerebellum, hippocampus and olfactory bulb after intranasal administration of the curcumin hydrogel were 1.82, 2.05, 2.07, and 1.51 times higher than intravenous administration of the curcumin solution injection, respectively, indicating that the hydrogel and intranasal administration significantly increased the distribution of curcumin into the rat brain tissue .
In another study intranasal curcumin has been detected in plasma of mice after 15 minutes to 3 hours at pharmacological dose (5 mg/kg), which has shown antiasthmatic potential by inhibiting bronchoconstriction and inflammatory cell recruitment to the lungs. Thus, this study indicates that intranasal treatment of curcumin prevents airway inflammations and bronchoconstrictions in asthma without any side effect .
In addition to these methods of delivery, research has also looked into less practical means such as intravenous, subtanceous (injecting under the skin), and intraperitoneal delivery (injection into the body cavity). These are unlikely routes of adminsteration for the common person, but if you're interested in the effects on absorption, you can read the science HERE.