Curcumin is one of the most studied healing compounds in medical science. It is the stuff that gives turmeric its yellow color. In recent years, both curcumin and turmeric have gained a lot of popularity because of the countless benefits and relatively low potential for side effects.
Some of the benefits are better-known than others, so we won't go through those in great detail. Right now, we want to focus on the more obscure benefits, which are also pretty amazing.
We'll include more than 50 citations from reputable studies and medical websites so you can investigate each of curcumin's benefits further.
First, let’s do a recap of the benefits of curcumin you probably already know about, just to refresh your memory:
- Reduces inflammation, the root cause of most chronic diseases (1)
- Scavenges free radicals as an antioxidant (2)
- Alleviates pain, especially if caused by inflammation (3)
- Protects the brain from cognitive decline (4)(5)
- Protects the liver (6)
- Improves skin health (7)(8)
- Speeds wound recovery time (9)
- Helps prevent heart disease (10)
- Slows the aging process (11)
- Aids & balances the immune system (12)
- Improves memory & moods (13)(14)
And now, we present the benefits you probably don't know about.
Crushes Symptoms of Hay Fever & Allergies
In a 2016 study of 241 patients, a curcumin supplement improved common hay fever allergy symptoms compared to a placebo. The randomized, double-blind trial ran for two months. The symptoms researchers monitored were sneezing, runny nose, and nasal congestion. Patients took 500mg of a 95% standardized curcumin supplement daily. (15)
Hay fever and other allergies are overreactions to pollen and other substances by the immune system. The scientists concluded that curcumin performs a diverse set of actions to regulate the immune system and prevent these types of overreactions.
Increases Omega-3's DHA Form in the Brain
Curcumin is able to do this, but it doesn’t act alone.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are necessary for the normal functioning of the brain. A shortage in the brain can lead to anxiety, depression, various mental illnesses, and poor cognitive function. The three most commonly known forms of omega-3 are ALA, DHA, and EPA. (16)
DHA and EPA normally come from fish and seafood, although certain types of algae supply them, too.
ALA is the form that comes from plant sources like flax seeds, chia seeds, and nuts. However, your body only absorbs and uses a small percentage of it. ALA is no good until your body converts what it does absorb to DHA and/or EPA. The process is inefficient. (17)(18)
Curcumin enhances the conversion of ALA to the other omega-3 forms. In 2015, scientists wrote in the peer-reviewed journal, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, that the curcumin and ALA combo increases the brain's DHA levels. They noted that curcumin helps by increasing the amounts of particular enzymes that perform the conversion from ALA to DHA. (19)
Government recommendations for daily omega-3 intake are horribly low, according to a Purdue study of Germans and Americans. Researchers found that most people who thought they were getting enough omega-3 through diet actually had low levels of it. Ninety-eight of all participants had levels that were too low to protect them from common health problems. (20)
The DHA-boosting effects of curcumin may be good news for vegetarians who stay away from fish and fish oil.
Elevates Activity of Other Antioxidants in the Body
Curcumin is a well-known antioxidant. It neutralizes the free radicals that cause a lot of wear and tear and aging in the body. It also reduces the activity of chemicals responsible for inflammation, the main driver of chronic disease.
What many people don’t know is that curcumin also causes your body to create more of its own antioxidants like glutathione. This is what researchers found in a study published in the journal, Antioxidants and Redox Signaling in 2005. (21)
Boosts Nitric Oxide Levels Compared to Other Supplements
Curcumin may increase nitric oxide levels even more than supplements marketed specifically for that purpose.
What does nitric oxide do?:
- Widens blood vessels (22)
- Increases circulation (23)
- Lowers blood pressure (24)(25)
- Enhances blood & oxygen flow to the brain (26)
- Plays a major role in male sexual function (27)
- May reduce post-exercise soreness (28)
- May improve exercise performance by delivering more oxygen & nutrients to muscles (29)(30)
In a 2012 study, 19 healthy middle-age people took 80mg of curcumin that was "lipidated" to increase absorption by the body. Another 19 took a placebo. The trial ran for four weeks, and researchers took saliva and blood samples at the beginning and end. The supplement raised blood plasma levels of nitric oxide by roughly 40%. The placebo group's blood showed no significant changes. (31)
Reduces Symptoms of Depression
In a 2015 analysis of six clinical trials, researchers concluded, "There is supporting evidence that curcumin administration reduces depressive symptoms in patients with major depression." (32) People who took at least 1,000mg of curcumin for at least six weeks experienced the best results. It also worked better for middle-age people than for older adults.
A randomized controlled trial published in Phytotherapy Research in 2014 also included patients with major depression disorder. Sixty participants took either a 500mg twice daily dose of curcumin, 20mg of an antidepressant called Fluoxetine, or both. There was no placebo. All three groups scored significantly better on the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D17) after six weeks. The improvements were equal for the three groups. (33)
A 2015 study looked at whether curcumin could enhance the effectiveness of standard antidepressants. 111 participants took either antidepressants or antidepressants plus 1,000mg of curcumin daily. The curcumin supplement contained piperine from black pepper to enhance absorption plus other curcuminoids from turmeric. (34) NOTE: a side effect of piperine is increased irritation of the gut lining. After six weeks, researchers tested them using the Beck Depression Inventory II (BDI-II) and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). Both groups improved their scores a lot. The curcumin group's improvements were significantly higher.
All of these studies examined people with major depression disorders. If you suspect you have an illness like depression – or if you were diagnosed with one - talk to your doctor before using supplements. Nothing here is a substitute for personalized medical advice.
Makes PMS Symptoms & Period Pain More Bearable
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a combination of physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms.
Researchers evaluated the effects of curcumin on these symptoms in a placebo study published in Neuropeptides in 2016. (35) Thirty-five participants took two capsules of a curcumin supplement daily, and another 35 took two placebo capsules. The trial ran through three menstrual cycles. The women took capsules seven days before menstruation and continued for three more days. That's 10 days of curcumin or placebo per cycle. PMS symptoms were significantly better in the curcumin group during all three menstrual cycles, according to questionnaires.
The scientists also measured levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in blood samples. The curcumin group had elevated levels compared to those who took the dummy capsules. BDNF is an important compound that boosts learning and skill development. It also reduces PMS symptoms.
The scientists also published a different paper for the same study in a journal called Complementary Therapies in Medicine. In the paper's conclusion, they noted: (36)
"Our results for the first time showed a potential advantageous effect of curcumin in attenuating severity of PMS symptoms, which were probably mediated by modulation of neurotransmitters and anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin."
Menstrual Cramps & Pain
As for menstrual cramps and period pain, curcumin may help with that, too. However, you must start taking it well before your period begins. Better yet, take it before PMS symptoms reveal themselves.
In a 2009 rat study, researchers found that curcumin extracts relaxed muscles associated with menstrual cramps. Contractions and spasm of these muscles are responsible for much of the discomfort. (37) Sure. Those were rats. Curcumin's anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties likely help humans get through the cramping and bleeding stage of the cycle. There are lots of anecdotal success stories online.
Because of curcumin's blood-thinning properties, some medical professionals will speculate that it will increase bleeding. However, many women prone to heavy periods report less bleeding, so there could be a balancing effect in play. While anecdotes don't provide proof of anything, sometimes there are so many self-reports that they’re hard to ignore. (38) It's only a matter of time before researchers settle that issue.
Improves Muscle Damage & Soreness During Exercise Recovery
Fifty-nine men and women participated in a 2017 study looking at the effects of two different dosages of curcumin on exercise recovery. Participants were "moderately trained" runners. During the trial, they ran downhill to induce muscle damage, soreness, and swelling. For eight weeks, each participant took either 50mg or 200mg of a curcumin supplement known for high absorption by the body or a placebo. Twenty-four hours after the intense exercise, the 200mg group had significantly lower pain scores compared to the placebo group. They also had lower levels of creatine kinase, which is a chemical indicator of muscle damage, compared to the placebo group after the downhill running. (39)
In 2015, researchers examined men who took high doses of curcumin. The twice daily dose was 2,500mg or a placebo, and they did this from two days before intense exercise to three days after the exercise. In this study, their activity was "unaccustomed heavy eccentric exercise."Scientists measured limb pain, muscle swelling, and some blood test indicators of muscle damage and inflammation. They also tested participants' ability to jump with one leg after the exercise. Twenty-four and 48 hours after the intense exercise, researchers noticed that the curcumin group had less pain during all phases of the single-leg jump. The phases included the squat, the stretch, and the jump itself. Participants were also able to jump higher with one leg. The pain reduction was "moderate-large." (40)
May Improve Exercise Stamina & Performance
A 2015 study of mice showed promising results. Curcumin improved exercise performance, which included "grip strength and endurance." Endurance tests included swimming. The researchers tested a number of chemical indicators of fatigue, too. They gave credit to curcumin's ability to raise glycogen levels in muscles. (41)
There aren't any good human clinical trials yet. However, there was a study of middle-age women with osteoarthritis that ran for eight months. They took a twice daily dose of 500mg curcumin that was chemically bound to phosphatidylcholine, which may also affect exercise stamina. These women more than quadrupled their distance in treadmill tests (445% increase) compared to before they used the supplement. A group that took a placebo almost doubled their distance (89% increase). (42)
Keep in mind that the above study focused on stamina improvements in osteoarthritis patients. Some percentage of the result was pain reduction, so they weren't entirely testing for normal exercise tolerance.
Expect medical scientists are motivated to design and perform new studies on this matter, as they currently have a lot more questions than answers. One thing curcumin is proven to do is increase nitric oxide levels, and this could help exercise stamina, performance, and recovery.
Relieves Pain & Improves Daily Functions in Osteoarthritis Patients
Curcumin is well-known for reducing inflammation-related pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory and autoimmune condition that attacks bones and joints. (43)
Osteoarthritis results from the wear and tear of cartilage as people age. (44)
Most studies of curcumin's effects on osteoarthritis (OA) symptoms focus on OA of the knee. There are lots of these studies, but we'll look at two of them.
A 2014 study of 53 women with knee osteoarthritis demonstrated lower pain scores and osteoarthritis symptom scores in those who took a standardized curcuminoid complex that included piperine from black pepper to increase absorption. The dose was 1,500mg daily for six weeks. Stiffness scores did not change. (45)
A larger study of 107 men and women showed similar results in 2009. In this one, researchers tested pain levels and knee function while patients walked on level surfaces and up and down stairs. They compared a 2,000mg daily dose of a curcumin extract to 800mg of ibuprofen. (46) Both groups scored really well at weeks two, four, and six compared to tests before taking curcumin or ibuprofen. The only difference in results came from pain scores from the stairs.
If you have been diagnosed with either type of arthritis – or you suspect you're arthritic – talk to your doctor before introducing new supplements. Again, this article is no substitute for professional medical advice from your personal physician.
Caveat: Most Curcumin & Turmeric Doesn’t Absorb Well in the Body
A lot of people get their curcumin and other curcuminoids from turmeric powder, which is a common kitchen spice used in curries. Others use curcumin in supplement form, and this is usually a turmeric extract. Both turmeric and curcumin have low bioavailability, according to studies. This means your body absorbs and uses only a small amount of it and either destroys or discards the rest. (49)
Some supplement makers add a compound called piperine, which is found in black pepper. (Bioperine® is a standardized patented form of piperine.) Piperine inhibits liver enzymes that destroy curcumin and other nutrients before your body has a chance to absorb them into the bloodstream. It also helps your gut absorb nutrients. (47)(48)
Piperine multiplies the bioavailability of curcumin by a factor of up to 20 times. It also multiplies absorption of swallowed CBD and many other oral nutrients.
Piperine increases absorption of drugs, too. If you’re on medications, keep this in mind. (50)(51)(52) Piperine is the stuff that gives black pepper its "heat." It irritates the gut and could damage it, especially if you take daily supplements containing piperine. (53)
Adding piperine to supplements is becoming increasingly archaic now that nutrient-delivery technology has advanced.
Liposomal Delivery™ is the New Technology for Advanced Absorption
Sovereign Laboratories was the first supplement manufacturer to utilize liposomal delivery technology to create a nutritional supplement. In this case, it was bovine colostrum. The process dramatically increased the bioavailability of colostrum's bioactives and made Sovereign Laboratories the industry leader. It took roughly 20 years to develop and perfect. The result was Colostrum-LD®.
The body absorbs liposomal supplements much more efficiently, according to studies (54). It's as true for curcumin as it is for colostrum. For this reason, Sovereign Laboratories has released its latest enhanced absorption supplement, Curcumin-LD®.
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