The active ingredient that gives turmeric its health boost (and its yellow colour) is called curcumin. It’s known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties but has naturally low levels of bioavailability. This means that when you ingest turmeric, the majority can’t actually be absorbed because it dissolves in fat rather than water. As our digestive system has a large amount of water, a lot of it is simply expelled in our stools.
What makes black pepper such a powerful addition is that the piperine in it is known to increase the bioavailability of nutrients. This increases the amount of curcumin that the body can absorb and therefore use, boosting the health benefits. This is what makes turmeric and black pepper such a fantastic combination.
Both black pepper and turmeric have been found to aid in weight loss. The piperine in black pepper has thermogenic properties which increases the body’s metabolism and the rate at which it burns calories. Curcumin on the other hand has been found to prevent fat accumulation and even assist in fat burning.
A 2016 study¹ published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found evidence that curcumin can actually change fat cells. It does this by inducing the browning of white fat cells, meaning that instead of storing fat, the cells produce heat and burns it.
No matter your age, we’re sure you’ve looked for ways to give your memory a boost. Well, a study published in the journal Life Sciences in 2010² found that curcumin can decrease memory impairment and cholinergic dysfunction (such as that found in Alzheimer’s). This is consistent with other research that suggests that both turmeric and black pepper may help protect cognitive ability and memory in Alzheimer’s disease.
Finding natural ways to decrease stress, anxiety and depression is on everyone’s radar lately, and black pepper with turmeric may well be the answer. One study³ found that the addition of piperine to curcumin created a significant increase in antidepressant-like effects including enhancing neurotransmitter activity (serotonin and dopamine), compared to curcumin on its own.
Another study published in the journal Psychopharmacology⁴ found similar results; that curcumin on its own can increase serotonin and dopamine levels, but when coadministered with piperine, there’s even greater pharmacological, biochemical and neurochemical activity.
How to take it
There are many ways to include this amazing combo in your diet, perhaps the most obvious being to add fresh black pepper and turmeric to your salads and food. You can also create a smoothie like drink using powders, or even a turmeric pepper paste that you can eat by the teaspoon. However this may be a bit much for those who aren’t a fan of spice or strong flavours.
This is where supplements come into play. The benefit of taking it in this form is that you don’t have to measure anything out yourself, and you don’t have to concern yourself with adding it regularly to meals or forcing yourself to eat a tablespoon of pure turmeric and black pepper.
The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends a daily dosage of 1.2-1.8g of standardised curcumin powder, 1.5-3g of fresh turmeric root or 1-3g of dried, powdered root.
According to one well-known study⁵, just 20mg of piperine added to 2g of curcumin was found to increase bioavailability by 2000%. This equates to a ratio of 1:100.
With any complementary health approaches, there are of course certain precautions to take. For example, the piperine in black pepper not only allows greater absorption of curcumin but has also been found to affect the way some drugs are metabolised and absorbed⁶. This could cause some medications to have an increased and possibly dangerous effect.
Piperine is also what gives pepper its ‘fiery’ taste and has the potential to cause gastrointestinal problems including acid reflux, nausea, and constipation. This is reportedly most common when not taken with food. A high dosage of curcumin daily can also lead to nausea, indigestion and diarrhoea⁷. This is why you should take care to safely follow the recommended dosage and usage instructions of any supplement you take.
Research has found that curcumin has the ability to reduce diabetes related complications, as well as lowering the levels of glucose in the blood. It is therefore thought to help with the management of diabetes⁸. Remember though, you should always consult with your doctor before taking any supplements or dietary changes, especially if you have a pre-existing health condition and/or are taking other medications.
If you have gallbladder disease, it’s important to avoid turmeric as it may worsen your condition.
1. JL, JHC, SWK, JWY. (2016). Curcumin induces brown fat-like phenotype in 3T3-L1 and primary white adipocytes - [online] The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955286315002417
2. HA, ST, KH, CN, RS. (2010). Protective effect of curcumin against intracerebral streptozotocin induced impairment in memory and cerebral blood flow. Life Sciences. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0024320509004627
3. MKB, MB, SKK. (2009). Anti-depressant like effect of curcumin and its combination with piperine in unpredictable chronic stress-induced behavioral, biochemical and neurochemical changes. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S009130570800350X
4. MKB, MB, SKK. (2008). Antidepressant activity of curcumin: involvement of serotonin and dopamine system. Psychopharmacology. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-008-1300-y?wptouch_preview_theme=enabled
5. SG, JD, JT, MM, RR, SPS. (1998). Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers - PubMed - NCBI. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9619120
6. HKN. (2011). The effects of black pepper on the intestinal absorption and hepatic metabolism of drugs. Expert Opinion on Drug Metabolism & Toxicology. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1517/17425255.2011.570332?src=recsys&journalCode=iemt20
7. Turmeric (2016) [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/turmeric/ataglance.htm#hed4 [Accessed 9 April 2018)
8. DZ, MF, SHG, JLL. (2013). Curcumin and Diabetes: A Systematic Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3857752/