Turmeric vs Curcumin

Curcumin vs. Turmeric: Differences and Benefits

You’ve heard of numerous health benefits of curcumin and turmeric. In order to understand what will be the best option for yourself, you go to google – and at this point in your research, you will definitely be confused.

You will notice that some authors are emphasizing the benefits of curcumin over turmeric and vice versa, while others are using these two terms interchangeably.

So, instead of asking yourself which remedy is better for you, the right question should be: “Is there really a reason not to combine the two for better effectiveness?

Let’s find out!


Curcumin: The big picture

Curcumin is a vibrant, carotenoid pigment produced by a certain group of plants. It is a type of curcuminoid, a natural plant pigment with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory characteristics.  This pigment is most widely known as an active compound within turmeric roots, but it can also be found in the curry spice and ginger. It is just one of the numerous curcuminoids, natural phenols that give turmeric a vibrant yellow colour and a specific, pungent aroma.

Curcumin was discovered relatively recently. Namely, its discovery dates back to the 19th century, when Vogel and Pelletier wrote about the “yellow-colouring matter” they isolated from the root of turmeric and named it curcumin.

Curcumin structure has been especially intriguing to chemists. In 1910, Milobedzka and Lampe proposed the detailed chemical structure of curcumin, defining it as diferuloylmethane. In the 1950s, it was finally discovered that curcumin is, in fact, a mixture of several components, which were isolated and classified by their chromatography.

Ever since, this turmeric ingredient has been studied extensively and is now famous for having a wide spectrum of uses, from food colouring and flavouring to cosmetics. It also has numerous health benefits and, in modern medicine, it has become a widely used herbal supplement.


Curcumin as a medical remedy

Even though turmeric, as the main source of nature-made curcumin, has been used as a spice and a healing remedy in folk medicine for thousands of years, the biological properties of curcumin were discovered in the 20th century. Namely, in 1949, a study published in Nature emphasized that organic curcumin has anti-bacterial characteristics. This was a major discovery, serving as a foundation for numerous papers published in the following years. After a thorough scientific analysis, curcumin has been reported to have various health benefits, including:

  • cognitive function improvement
  • brain health maintenance
  • cholesterol-lowering
  • diabetes prevention
  • anti-inflammatory properties
  • anti-cancer activities
  • joint pain relief


Cumin vs curcumin

It is important to note that, even though their names sound similar, curcumin and cumin have completely different properties, uses, and health benefits. Unlike curcumin, cumin is a part of the parsley family. It is one of the main elements of chili and curry powder and is believed to have numerous health benefits.

Its main ingredient is cuminaldehyde, the oil that has notable antimicrobial and antifungal characteristic. Apart from it, cumin can also help patients experiencing:

  • digestive disorders
  • iron deficiency
  • diabetes
  • high blood cholesterol
  • weight problems
  • drug dependence


Turmeric vs Curcumin


Turmeric: The big picture

Turmeric plant, or Curcuma longa, is a flowering plant of the ginger family. Because of its gorgeous, golden-yellow colour, it is also known as “Indian saffron.” Turmeric is a domesticated plant, cultivated in Asian tropical and subtropical regions, especially in China and India. With its distinguished taste, it has been used as one of the most essential culinary spices.

Apart from being used as a spice, turmeric even has certain cultural and religious uses. However, we will are going to focus on its multiple medicinal properties.


Turmeric as a medical remedy

This spice has an impressively rich history of pharmaceutical uses, dating back nearly 4000 years. As a natural health remedy, it was used in Ayurvedic, Siddha, Unani, and traditional Chinese medicine. It was first used as an anti-inflammatory remedy to treat numerous health issues, from respiratory conditions to toothaches and chest pain.

In modern traditional medicine, however, health benefits of turmeric have been studied and recognized within the last 25 years. Today, there have been more than 3000 papers published, describing the use of this spice. Some of the most common health issues turmeric supplements can treat successfully are:

  • rheumatism
  • inflammations
  • diabetic wounds
  • hepatitis disorders
  • gastrointestinal diseases
  • anorexia


Curcumin and turmeric: Shared health benefits

Studies have proven that the majority of the turmeric health benefits are due to curcumin. Considering, it is not surprising at all that these two supplements have numerous shared benefits for human health. Here are some of them.


1.     Reducing inflammation

Inflammation is the response of your immune system to certain health problems. It protects your body against bacterial and virus infections. However, chronic inflammation is extremely dangerous, as it may cause numerous additional diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, asthma, active hepatitis, etc.

Curcumin can minimize inflammation by reducing the function of the enzymes involved in those inflammatory processes. Its extract proved to be more effective than aspirin and ibuprofen when it comes to alleviating inflammatory processes.


2.     Improving skin health

Precisely because of its anti-inflammatory traits, using curcumin regularly can boost your skin health. Research shows that this pigment can minimize skin damage, boost collagen deposition, and speed up wound healing.

Curcumin can also be used in treating other skin conditions caused by inflammation. According to the 2016 study carried out in China, curcumin cut the increase of inflammatory cells by 50% and significantly reduced the symptoms of psoriasis.

There is another research conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Centre’s Department of Dermatology on breast cancer patients, emphasizing that curcumin can be effective in treating skin problems caused by this disease, such as radiation-caused dermatitis.


3.     Regulating blood sugar

High blood sugar needs immediate treatment. At first, it may cause some less dangerous diabetes symptoms, like fatigue or unintentional weight loss. However, if not treated properly and in a timely manner, its consequences may be far graver, including the loss of vision and nerve damage.

This is where curcumin steps in. The review published in the International Journal of Endocrinology Metabolism highlights that this ingredient can alleviate glucose production, decrease inflammation, and improve the secretion of insulin from the pancreas.


4.     Minimizing the risk of cancer

Improper nutrition is one of the most common causes of cancer development. This is where curcumin can help you, as it can minimize signalling cells and block those growth factors that are directly related to cancer development. For now, studies have proven that curcumin is powerful when it comes to preventing pancreatic, breast, colorectal, and lung cancer.


5.     Boosting detoxification

The human body itself the most powerful detox system. You don’t have to be a healthcare specialist to know that the kidneys filter blood, that the liver removes the toxins from our body, and that the lungs breathe out carbon dioxide.

Curcumin and turmeric can help these organs achieve their maximum effectiveness. Namely, the antioxidant traits of curcumin can protect your liver against damage and allow it to work uninterruptedly, removing toxins from your body.


6.     Relieving pain

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease, followed by symptoms like swelling, stiffness, and pain in the joints. Using curcumin for arthritis may be helpful, given its powerful anti-inflammatory characteristics. In fact, recent research shows that curcumin serves as a natural painkiller and it can be as powerful as some common medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.


7.     Managing weight

According to the recent research by the European Journal of Nutrition, using curcumin and turmeric for weight loss and related health issues can be effective. They claim that their results “clearly demonstrate that curcumin at cellular and whole organism levels displays remarkable potential health benefits for the prevention of obesity and associated metabolic disorders.”

Another study also proves that curcumin can improve the weight management processes in overweight people. Apart from benefiting the weight loss process, it also reduces body fat, increases waistline, boosts hip circumference reduction, and lowers BMI.


Using curcumin and turmeric as cognitive enhancers

Even though there is still the lack of quality research on this topic, some recent statistics show that curcumin can be a powerful cognitive enhancer, boosting mental health and treating conditions like depression and anxiety. So, here are a few mental health benefits of this powerful substance.


Treating depression

Curcumin is a powerful natural antidepressant that boosts serotonin and dopamine, the two neurotransmitters impacting people’s mood. This is especially important for those patients that have used different antidepressants without success or who have experienced their side effects.

Even though one research shows that curcumin may be as powerful as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) Prozac, another study proposes that it is the combination of these two antidepressants that gives the best results.

That’s the beautiful thing about curcumin as an antidepressant. Anyone experiencing any form of depressive disorders can use it for a long time and even combine it with other antidepressant medications to boost their effectiveness.


Slowing down brain aging

Curcumin is one of the most powerful brain supplements out there, as it can protect our brains in multiple ways. Here are some of them:

  • Its antioxidant features protect our brain cells from damage as we grow old.
  • Improving blood flow to the brain, it increases people’s concentration, working memory, and attention. Studies show that it can even boost attention in healthy seniors in less than an hour.
  • It improves the creation of brain-derived neurotrophic factors, which contribute to creating new brain cells.
  • It improves the levels of DHA, reducing the chances of mental and neurological disorders caused by its deficiency.
  • Curcumin prevents brain inflammation, which causes brain fog and is one of number one causes of death.


It may be used for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s

When consumed regularly, either as fresh food or nootropic supplements, turmeric can significantly reduce the chances of getting Alzheimer’s. According to some preliminary research results, curcumin reduces the presence of beta-amyloid plaques found in people with Alzheimer’s.

However, even though the number of studies covering the link between Alzheimer’s and curcumin is growing, more research is required before we can surely claim that this treatment is effective.


Reducing stress and anxiety

When it comes to treating anxiety and stress, curcumin is one of the most effective brain health supplements. Research shows that it effectively reduces anxiety in patients with major depressive disorders, and also minimizes the stress levels in women when they are menstruating.

As mentioned above, it can also be paired up with other trusted herbal supplements. For example, in combination with fenugreek, it reduces stress and anxiety levels, eliminates brain fog, and improves the quality of life in people experiencing extreme occupational stress.


Curcumin and turmeric: How to choose and consume them?

Even though the root of turmeric contains popular turmeric oil that may improve its bioavailability, neither curcumin or turmeric is easily absorbed. Statistics show that more than 85% of curcumin we take in a form of a supplement passes unused through our body.

Therefore, to boost their absorption capabilities, you need to combine them with some additional fats and oils.

For example, you could make turmeric rice or awesome lattes from fresh turmeric, as the natural fats in milk will boost its absorption. There are numerous recipes with turmeric and curcumin foods you may find online.

If you want to try out curcumin or turmeric supplements, pair them with other agents to aid absorption. For instance, you could combine curcumin and black pepper, coconut oil or krill oil, as these ingredients let curcumin stay longer in your body.

Now, as for the choice of the supplements, these decisions depend on your goals and needs. For example, if you want supplements with a higher concentration of curcumin, you should choose turmeric root extract which contains up to 95% of this substance.

Both turmeric and curcumin are natural substances and, as such, they can generally be combined with other pharmaceutical and natural remedies. Still, here are a few cases when you should avoid using them:

  • If you’re pregnant.
  • If you’re scheduled for a recent surgery.
  • If you’re taking blood thinners.
  • If you’re experiencing stomach problems.
  • If you’re using diabetes medication.

Listed above are a few examples of how curcumin or turmeric can react adversely when combined with other remedies please consult Drugs.com for the full list


Curcumin vs. turmeric: Which one wins?

It is important to understand that you don’t have to choose between curcumin and turmeric. On the contrary. As they go well together, there is no reason why you cannot use turmeric in your diet regularly and, at the same time, use a reliable curcumin supplement. This is probably the optimum way to consume both. Studies even show that, when these two ingredients are combined, they will strengthen each other’s effectiveness.

Safety comes first, so ensure that each supplement you buy is tested and that there are no hidden nasties or harmful ingredients. The main thing is that you’re using the supplement to help you improve a certain problem you’re experiencing or your overall health and wellness, and find out in advance whether it can be combined with any other medications you’re using currently.

If you’re looking for some additional brain boosters to combine with turmeric or curcumin, check out our list of the best nootropics to help you.

Aaron Weller

Aaron is the CEO & Co-Founder of Lucid. He brings a wealth of business smarts and startup experience to the team and is heading up the launch of future growth of the company.