QUESTION

I’m confused about curcumin and turmeric. Aren’t they basically the same thing? Or is one better?

ANSWER

Your confusion is understandable! The answer is that curcumin and turmeric have some of the same benefits…as well as their own unique ones. What’s common to both are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric is a bright yellow spice commonly used for flavoring, especially in curries and Middle Eastern dishes. Sometimes called “Indian saffron,” turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant, a relative of the ginger family. Turmeric also is used as a traditional treatment in Indian and Chinese Traditional Medicine for a range of conditions, including arthritis, laryngitis, bronchitis and diabetes. Curcumin is the primary active ingredient in turmeric. It is one of the family of antioxidants called curcuminoids and is the component of turmeric that has been most extensively studied. In fact, research finds that curcumin can reduce ulcerative colitis flare-ups and postsurgery pain…help with anxiety and depression…help prevent type 2 diabetes…and may be a preventive for several types of cancer, including cancers of the prostate, breast, skin and colon. Turmeric has been less well-studied. Nevertheless, research finds that it prevents heart attacks after bypass surgery…reduces skin irritation after radiation treatments…helps control cholesterol…helps reduce obesity…fights fungal infection…and reduces gall bladder disease. Other research finds that turmeric (and curcumin) reduce the joint pain, swelling and inflammation of arthritis. So to answer which you should take—turmeric or curcumin—to get the most benefit, you should take both.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Choose a turmeric supplement fortified with extra curcumin—ideally, one that is 95% curcuminoids. A typical dose is 400 milligrams (mg) to 600 mg taken two or three times a day (a total of 1,200 mg to 1,800 mg/day). Also, since neither turmeric nor curcumin is well absorbed in the digestive tract, look for a supplement that includes piperine, a pepper extract that aids absorption. Note: You also can boost turmeric’s health benefits when eating curry by adding pepper—but you’ll need to eat a lot of curry to get benefits equal to taking supplements.) And you can apply turmeric directly to skin for arthritis pain relief… Turmeric paste for pain relief: Mix one tablespoon of turmeric spice with enough coconut oil to make a paste. Apply to affected body part and let sit for three hours…then wash off with warm water. Repeat two to three times a week. (Note: Your skin may take on a slight golden hue, but that will fade with time.) Turmeric is considered safe at doses mentioned above. But it’s always best to talk to your doctor before taking this or any other supplement. The most common side effect of larger doses is upset stomach. Piperine can interfere with some prescription drugs, including phenytoin (Dilantin), propranolol (Inderal), theophylline and some chemotherapy drugs for breast cancer.