Curcumin vs turmeric
If you’ve heard of curcumin you’ve likely heard of turmeric as both words are often used interchangeably. But despite curcumin and turmeric having similar meanings – they don’t mean exactly the same thing.
Turmeric is that florescent orange spice you’ll find gathering dust at the back of a kitchen cupboard and curcumin is a chemical within that spice – the ‘active ingredient’ if you will. The colour of turmeric is down to its curcumin contents as curcumin comes from the curcuminoids family all of which have a bright yellow colour. We know that’s a lot of curcumins to get your head around, so stay tuned.
Curcumin is the ‘active ingredient’ in turmeric
It’s all good and well saying curcumin is the ‘active ingredient’ in turmeric, but what does that actually mean?
The dictionary definition is ‘the part of a substance or compound that produces its chemical or biological effect’ and though this sounds complex, it’s really not. Curcumin is simply the chemical within turmeric that has the health benefits everyone’s been talking about.
Having said this, turmeric also contains essential vitamins and minerals, especially manganese and iron, that have their own health benefits meaning curcumin isn’t this spice’s only useful ingredient!
The benefits of curcumin
As for the supposed health benefits of curcumin (and therefore turmeric), there’s a lot of research out there suggesting it may help to support the immune system by protecting against free radicals- molecules that are certainly not all bad, but that can cause diseases. There’s also research that suggests curcumin to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Why are anti-inflammatory properties a good thing?
Most chronic diseases have an inflammatory component, including heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s so you can see why the potential anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin is currently a hot topic.
A 2016 study by King George’s Medical University in Lucknow, India, found patients with osteoarthritis of the knee who took turmeric extract compared to a placebo, had significant improvement. Turmeric could suppress inflammation and show a clinical improvement of the condition.
Dr Sarah Brewer says: ‘Turmeric is an extremely powerful antioxidant. It demonstrates anti-inflammatory properties in conditions such as arthritis, muscle sprains and other injuries by supporting cartilage’.
Memory and dementia
Turmeric is also being investigated to see if the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin may help support memory. So far, the evidence is mixed. Laboratory studies have shown curcumin can break down amyloid-beta plaques that are seen in Alzheimer’s disease, but there isn’t any evidence that it can do that in the human body.
However, a 2016 study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, compared 96 people who took either 1,500mg of curcumin or a placebo pill daily. During cognitive assessment tests to measure verbal and memory skills, those taking the placebo suffered a decline in mental function after just six months, whilst those taking curcumin did not. Researchers hope this finding may help develop new treatments for dementia, although more studies are needed.