Turmeric has quickly become ubiquitous. This humble root, originally from India, is added to everything from dietary supplements to fruit juices and beauty products claiming it can help relieve pain, improve brain function and even fight cancer .
The key to its health benefits is its yellow pigment, called curcumin.
This compound may even improve the function of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, important for the control of blood glucose, as shown in a recent study published in Diabetes Care in 2012.
Medical research tends to use curcumin at very high doses – not just crushed whole turmeric versions available commercially. In fact, eating turmeric – a common ingredient in curries and more recently added to drinks such as lattes in coffee shops – is a fairly inefficient way to bring enough curcumin into your body. [File photo]
People with prediabetes (elevated blood sugar levels) received a daily curcumin pill or placebo – nine months later, none of those taking the curcumin pill developed type 2 diabetes, while one-fifth of those receiving placebo had the disease. .
Another study conducted in 2015 showed that patients with ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, who took a high-dose curcumin supplement with their medications achieved remission after one month.
"More and more evidence suggests that curcumin reduces the levels of harmful inflammatory proteins released by our cells and could therefore help many inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis, dementia, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. cancer, "says Professor Susan Hewlings, University of Michigan dietician who co-authored an in-depth scientific journal on Spice in 2017.
The humble root, native to India, is added to everything from dietary supplements to juices and beauty products claiming that it can help relieve pain, improve brain function and even fight against cancer [File photo]
"For example, some studies have shown that taking it as an oral supplement can provide pain relief similar to ibuprofen in people with arthritis. However, we must be careful because curcumin is classified as a dietary supplement and not a medicine. It has therefore not been the subject of rigorous placebo-controlled trials in humans. & # 39;
A crucial factor that raises questions about the usefulness of store-bought turmeric products is the concentration of the active ingredient. Medical research tends to use curcumin at very high doses – not just crushed whole turmeric versions available commercially.
In fact, eating turmeric – a common ingredient in curries, and more recently added to drinks such as lattes in coffee shops – is a fairly mediocre way to bring enough curcumin into your body.
"Research on the anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric on the body is very promising," said NHS dietitian Sarah Schenker.
This compound may even improve the function of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, important for the control of blood glucose, as shown in a recent study published in Diabetes Care in 2012. [File photo]
"However, we would have to drink a lot of turmeric slats to make a huge profit and we are not at the stage where the worried well should take a daily pill to prevent the disease. But for someone who suffers from the daily pain of arthritis, a decent supplement might be worth the try.
Professor Hewlings added, "I am a passionate supporter of nutrients in food, but in the case of curcumin, you would have to consume huge amounts to get them from your diet."
Indeed, curcumin is not soluble in water. Its molecules agglutinate in the intestine, making them difficult to absorb into the bloodstream.
This means that "the vast majority of it" consumed in food will not be absorbed and will be disposed of as waste, says Professor Jan Frank, a nutrition scientist at the University of Hohenheim in Germany and a renowned expert who has conducted tests on curcumin and the most effective way to take it.
To overcome this problem and maximize the potential health benefits, he explained that some manufacturers have developed ways to increase the "bioavailability" of curcumin, which is the amount that is absorbed by the body.
Some have added emulsifiers to help mix the ingredients properly and make the curcumin soluble in water and thus better absorbed. Other popular methods to improve absorption include the addition of a source of fat or piperine (a compound present in black pepper) to the dietary supplement.
So, what is the utility of commercially available turmeric products? Above, Professor Frank analyzes a selection. We then noted them:
Pukka turmeric gold tea (1/10)
20 tea bags, £ 2.99, most supermarkets.
Claim: These turmeric tea bags also contain green tea, licorice, cardamom and lemon. Bags should be soaked in boiling water for no more than 15 minutes.
Expert Opinion: This drink can be refreshing and taste great, but you will not have enough important ingredient, curcumin, to have a significant anti-inflammatory effect in the body.
The manufacturer claims that each sachet contains 40% turmeric root but – since curcumin is not soluble in water – you will not absorb a significant amount in tea.
Healthspan Opti-tumeric Capsules (9/10)
30 capsules, £ 10.95, healthspan.co.uk
Claim: The capsules contain 500 mg of curcumin and 20 mg of vitamin C "to promote cartilage formation and promote immune health". One or two a day.
Expert Opinion: Our research has shown that the emulsifier method used was by far the most effective way to improve the absorption of curcumin.
The added vitamin C must ensure that curcumin is not destroyed by the alkaline pH of the intestine, so that a larger portion is absorbed.
A glass of orange juice taken with standard supplements could have a similar effect.
We do not know the best dose of curcumin for different benefits, but this amount is in line with research, which has shown that taking 500 mg to 1,000 mg daily can have a beneficial anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
The turmeric rifle (2/10)
Package of 28 shots of 60 ml, £ 88, theturmeric.co
Claim: Watermelon juice, pineapple and lemon with 5 g of turmeric root and piperine black pepper extract. Drink one a day for "a positive effect on inflammation and memory".
Expert opinion: Curcumin is not soluble in water, so there is no benefit to drinking it in a drink – and so little juice in one serving that the vitamins you will get from the fruit juice are negligible.
The amount of curcumin in each shot is not clear. The manufacturer suggests that turmeric root is more beneficial than curcumin extract, but there is no decent study on this – or that its ingredients stimulate memory.
Better to buy a supplement with a clear amount of curcumin and a better absorption absorber than piperine, which has not been proven.
Saint Lama Kermeric (4/10)
£ 12.99, 200g, holylama.co.uk
Claim: This spread contains curcumin with coconut oil and piperine, an extract of black pepper, which is supposed to improve the absorption of the spice. One serving of 10 ml (2 tablespoons) contains 200 mg of curcumin.
Expert verdict: The theory is that the consumption of curcumin with a fat source helps you to absorb more, because it stimulates the production of micelles by the gallbladder.
These compounds pass through the intestinal wall and it is thought that curcumin spreads in the blood.
We suspect that this is the mechanism because fat has a similar effect on the absorption of other compounds such as beta-carotene present in vegetables – but there is no evidence of it. robust studies.
Even in this case, you can easily choose a healthier fat, such as a spoonful of olive oil with a high dose of curcumin. One serving of this spread contains nearly 4 g of saturated fat; a fifth of the daily limit of a woman.
Better You Tumeric Everyday Oil Spray (7/10)
25ml, £ 17.95, betteryou.com
Claim: An oral spray with orange; four jets provide 1300 mg of turmeric. The manufacturer claims that its "revolutionary encapsulation process" means that curcumin is water soluble and can be absorbed through the mouth.
Expert Opinion: Curcumin is mixed with cyclodextrin, a large sugar molecule often used to improve drug absorption. It will therefore be theoretically more absorbable.
However, I doubt that the absorption by the mouth is better than taking a tablet, because its surface is much smaller.
The small intestine (where a pill would be digested) has a greater capacity for absorption of curcumin. I guess so a pill is more beneficial.
That said, no comprehensive study has yet compared these two routes of delivery and the spray would be useful for people who hate swallowing pills.
Latte Health Latte (2/10)
1l, £ 3.50, waitrose.com
Claim: Without a dairy drink or caffeine, this drink contains rice milk, turmeric, sunflower oil, ginger, cinnamon and black pepper, which "awaken the good things that turmeric has to to offer".
Verdict of the experts: unlike many products, this drink does not promise any specific benefits.
Low in fat and low in sugar, it's a relatively healthy alternative to tea and coffee.
But one should drink liters to reach the beneficial dose of curcumin, about 500 mg to 1,000 mg found in a good supplement.
At 0.5% turmeric, it's really here as a coloring agent and the dose of curcumin in a 250ml glass would be too small to have a therapeutic effect.
Wild Nutrition Turmaforte full spectrum turmeric (6/10)
60 capsules, £ 32, amazon.co.uk
Claim: These 1,000 mg supplements consist of three "active" parts of the turmeric plant – curcumin, turmerosaccharides (a starch), and turmerone (turmeric essential oil), "clinically proven to reduce pain Joint 86.2% 21 days. Take two or three a day.
Experts' verdict: The suggested daily dose is superior to most studies, but since we do not yet know the ideal dose for curcumin benefits, it is not necessarily a bad thing.
Curcumin is safe in high doses unless you have liver problems or gallstones because it can affect the release of bile used by the body to break down fats. My problem with this product is that in the research that examined whether the addition of turmeric essential oil increases the absorption of curcumin, this has had no effect or l & # 39; 39, aggravated.
PS: Is it good for your skin?
Botanical Laboratory Turmeric Stain Control Clay Mask (7/10)
100g, £ 6.99, superdrug.com
Claim: Treatment with turmeric, witch hazel and clay to "unclog pores" and "fight against imperfections". Leave on for 15 minutes, twice a week.
Expert Opinion: Anton Alexandroff, consulting dermatologist at BMI The Manor Hospital in Bedford, said: "Studies suggest that turmeric reduces inflammation when it is applied to the skin. This mask can therefore be beneficial against inflammatory skin conditions such as mild acne. Some studies also suggest that it has an antibacterial effect and, although it is difficult to know the amount of active ingredient contained in this mask, it is safe and inexpensive. & # 39;