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Is Turmeric Extract Better Than Turmeric Powder?

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Like the answer to so many questions we encounter every day, it depends. Do you want to impress your friends with a curry dinner better than a Michelin five-star Mumbai restaurant? Are you making that curry from scratch? If you answered yes, you want the dried, raw turmeric powder that is one of India’s most common spices, the principal component of curry.

Turmeric, or Curcuma longa, is a perennial flowering member of the ginger family. It is native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, and requires warm temperatures and considerable rainfall in order to thrive. India is the world’s largest producer and exporter of turmeric, cultivating over a million tons per year.

The use of turmeric dates back thousands of years. Ancient Indians referred to it as ‘the herb of the Sun’. Turmeric reached China at least by 700 C.E., and was chronicled by the famous world traveler and merchant, Marco Polo, who marveled over its saffron-like color and qualities.

Turmeric is a rhizomatous plant, meaning that it produces rhizomes. Rhizomes are thick stalks or stems that grow beneath the ground like roots. It is the turmeric rhizomes that are harvested, dried, and ground into powder to make raw spice powder.

Now, referring back to our initial question, if you’re hoping for some relief from that inflamed knee or shoulder, or you’re looking for some other functional health benefit, you want turmeric powdered extract, not the raw spice powder. It is the extract that is used by millions of people worldwide for its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and other beneficial health properties.

What is Turmeric Extract?

Turmeric contains a number of active phytochemicals that are recognized for their health benefits. However, the primary functional component of turmeric is its bright orange flavanol known as ‘curcumin’. Curcumin, actually a group of three curcuminoids, is present in raw turmeric in a concentration of about 3% – 5%. If you were to eat a meal with a large amount of curry, you might consume 20 - 40 milligrams of pure curcumin.

Curcumin is possibly the most studied nutraceutical ingredient, with over 35,000 research studies in the PubMed database referencing curcumin. While the majority of these studies are either lab or animal studies, there are also thousands of curcumin studies involving human research participants.

As a result of these studies, scientists and medical professionals have concluded that the daily dosage of curcumin, for anyone hoping to derive some functional health benefit, is at a minimum, 500 milligrams per day. If we’re only getting 20-40 milligrams from that Indian meal, we’d have to eat a lot of meals in order to consume a minimum effective dosage of curcumin.

Using high performance liquid chromatography, researchers have identified three curcuminoids in turmeric; curcumin, demethoxycurcumin (DMC) and bisdemethoxycurcumin (BDMC). The apparent health benefits of each of these three substances are very similar. Researchers have been investigating their anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-cancer potential, along with a number of other possible nutritional applications. However, there are some important differences between these three curcuminoids.

One of curcumin’s weaknesses is its bioavailability. It is a difficult substance for the GI tract to assimilate through oral consumption. Compared to curcumin, however, DMC has better stability and excellent water solubility. For these reasons, DMC is much easier for the body to assimilate than curcumin. BDMC has been studied recently for its potential in supporting immune response to allergic reactions [2].

Herbal Extract Potency

Throughout the mid-twentieth century, Indian scientists began exploring the biochemical components and characteristics of their traditional Ayurvedic herbal medicines. Ayurveda is a medical/wellness system which dates back thousands of years. It relies largely on a combination of making strategic functional food choices, combined with herbal medicines used for specific health-related needs and interventions.

Up until the twentieth century, and the advent of modern analytical biochemical technologies, Ayurvedic practitioners relied on their traditional knowledge when recommending the usage of plant-based medicines. This knowledge was based on millions of case histories dating back thousand of years. Because of this enormous body of anecdotal data, Indian physicians were able to accurately prescribe the usage of an herb for its correlating health needs and complaints. An Ayurvedic doctor couldn’t tell you exactly what the mechanism was that produced the effects, nor did he know what the active phytochemical components of the plants were. He just knew, based on traditional knowledge, that a certain herb should produce a certain effect or benefit.
Armed with modern analytical methods, Indian scientists began investigating these plants, in order to identify their active components. Then they began conducting research into the medical and nutritional applications of these active components with lab, animal, and human studies.

The PubMed database contains millions of scientific research studies involving herbs and their phytochemical components. Up to now, most of this research has been conducted in Asia. In China, India, and Southeast Asia, plant-based medicines are still the most widely used forms of medicine. Because of this, there is an enormous market that justifies research expenditures by governments, educational institutions, and commercial enterprises. Scientists and medical researchers now know what the active components of these traditional herbs are, and they also know the biological mechanisms by which they affect the human body. In other words, Indian doctors can now make claims and decisions about their herbal medicines based on scientific research, and not just tradition. This knowledge also helps them with questions pertaining to dosage and safety.

Once all of this knowledge became available to physicians and herb companies, they were able to develop products and product formulations that were based on solid scientific research. One of the facts that became apparent through research was that in order to consume an effective dose of a particular biochemical component, in most cases a patient needed to consume a large amount of the raw herb. The reason for this is that the active components in the raw herb powder are typically present in low concentrations, sometimes less than 1%.

Not All Turmeric Extracts are Created Equally

In order to compensate for these low concentrations, Indian companies developed technologies that allowed them to identify, isolate, and extract the active components. Once they had the concentrated active components, they were then able to develop powdered products that contained the raw plant powder, but with the concentrated active components added back in at high concentrations. So now, instead of an herbal medicine made from the raw herb powder containing only a 2% or 3% concentration of the active ingredient, they could design products with any concentration they chose.

For example, Mucuna pruriens is a bean, also known as Velvet Bean, that contains high concentrations of the essential amino acid, Leva dopa. Leva dopa is a precursor to dopamine and is used to treat Parkinson’s disease. Practically all L. dopa which is used throughout the world is extracted from Mucuna. The L. dopa in Mucuna is naturally present at a concentration of about 5%. However, the Mucuna extract products on the market contain L. dopa in concentrations from 15% all the way up to 99%. Awareness of this concentration is a vital piece of information for health providers and patients because it is necessary in order to compute dosage.

Therefore, buyer beware. It is not enough for an herb company to simply inform their customers that they are using a concentrated extract form of a particular botanical. It is also important to know what that level of concentration is. Turmeric extracts, for instance, are developed with curcumin concentrations of 20% up to 95%. If your turmeric extract supplement provider is using an extract with only a 50% concentration of curcumin, then you need to take twice as much as another product which uses a 95% concentration in order to achieve a comparable dosage. It is the 95% turmeric extract which is used by scientists in research studies exploring the effectiveness of curcumin.

Calculating Turmeric Extract

Another factor complicating the accurate dosing of herbal extracts is the rating method used by extract manufacturers. There are two basic systems used to communicate an extract’s level of concentration. The first one is the method described in the examples above.

A percentage is used which signifies what percentage, by weight, the active component is present in the product. A 50% concentration signifies that the product is one half raw herb powder and one half concentrated active ingredient. This method is the simplest and most commonly used.
The other rating method utilizes a ratio instead of a percentage. This ratio communicates the active ingredient’s concentration compared to the level of concentration in the original raw herb powder. For example, if the concentration of curcumin in your original batch of turmeric was 4%, and you formulated your extract to contain 40% curcumin, you would communicate this to your customers as a 10 to 1 ratio.

This ratio method is much more complicated, compared to using the percentage method, because you have to do multiple calculations to determine accurate dosage. You also don’t know for sure what the concentration was in the original herb powder. Even though the percentage method is simpler and easier to compute, many Indian companies still use the ratio rating method. It is the responsibility of the company that markets the packaged consumer product to ensure that the level of active components in their product is effectively and accurately communicated to end users.

Why Do So Many People Use Turmeric Extract?

Turmeric extract, with its active ingredient, curcumin, is one of the most popular dietary supplements in the world today, and its usage is projected to double over the next five years. Why?

Curcumin has multiple nutritional applications. In the West, we would refer to it as a tonic, a substance which affords a broad spectrum of health benefits. Curcumin promotes the stabilization of physiological processes and the homeostasis of physiological systems. These nutritional applications are widely recognized by health practitioners, both within conventional medicine, and within so-called alternative medicine. For example:

According the WebMD, curcumin is believed to have these benefits.

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Effective against symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • May help inhibit certain types of cancer, such as colorectal cancer
  • Might protect against colitis
  • Might protect against stomach ulcers
  • Might help regulate cholesterol levels
  • Might help treat upset stomach
  • Might help regulate blood insulin levels
  • Might be effective in countering depression
  • Might be helpful in treating HIV virus and other viral infections
  • Might be effective in treating uveitis

 

According to drugs.com, curcumin has the following applications.

  • To regulate stomach acid
  • Bowel problems, like intestinal gas, diarrhea, and bloating
  • Liver and gallbladder complaints
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • To fight cancer
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • To regulate cholesterol levels

The British medical site, www.netdoctor.co.uk/, states that curcumin has been shown effective in treating several health conditions.

  1. Parkinson’s disease
  2. Tendinitis
  3. Cancer

 

According to examine.com, curcumin is effective in treating several health issues.

  1. Inflammation
  2. Depression and anxiety
  3. Osteoarthritis
  4. Regulating cholesterol levels
  5. Regulating blood glucose
  6. Regulation of blood pressure

 

All of these suggested health benefits are supported by research. Much of that research involves lab and animal studies. However, thousands of human studies have been conducted on curcumin, and more are on the way. Research involving human research participants is the gold standard in medical and nutraceutical research.

How Much Turmeric Extract Should You Take?

Like the answer to so many questions we encounter every day, it depends. If you’re working with a health provider, it is always important to follow professional advice. A 2008 study, published in the journal, ‘Biochemical Pharmacology’, recognized curcumin’s many potential health benefits and discussed its safety, even when consumed at very high dosage levels.

Various preclinical cell culture and animal studies suggest that curcumin has potential as an antiproliferative (to slow the spread of cancer), anti-invasive, and antiangiogenic agent; as a mediator of chemoresistance and radio-resistance; as a chemo-preventive agent; and as a therapeutic agent in wound healing, diabetes, Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, and arthritis. Pilot phase I clinical trials have shown curcumin to be safe even when consumed at a daily dose of 12g for 3 months. Other clinical trials suggest a potential therapeutic role for curcumin in diseases such as familial adenomatous polyposis, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, hypercholesteremia, atherosclerosis, pancreatitis, psoriasis, chronic anterior uveitis and arthritis.”

According to these researchers, pure curcumin has been shown to be safe when consumed at a level of 12 grams daily for three months. Twelve grams is 12,000 mg. However, the consensus of medical researchers concerning daily dosage is between 500 mg to 2000 mg of pure curcumin.

You can learn more about the optimal daily dose of turmeric extract by reading this article:
What is the Optimal Turmeric Dosage for Inflammation?

Beware of Misleading Turmeric Advertising

When purchasing a turmeric extract supplement, it is important to read the label carefully. Many turmeric companies advertise the quantity of turmeric powder instead of turmeric extract. For example, they may claim “1500 mgs of turmeric” but if you look closely at the label, you may see 1000 mgs of turmeric root powder and 50 mgs of turmeric extract per capsule. 1000 mgs of turmeric powder is only 3-5 mgs of curcuminoids. You would have to take 15-30 capsules to get the recommended daily dose of turmeric extract in order to reach a therapeutic level of curcuminoids.

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There are four likely scenarios happening when companies advertise “high potency turmeric available” when they have only 50 mgs of turmeric extract per capsule.

  1. They have no idea what constitutes a high potency turmeric.
  2. They are deliberately misleading and falsifying information to make you believe you are getting a high potency turmeric.
  3. They do not know the difference between turmeric root and turmeric extract.
  4. They do not know how to properly report or calculate the amount of turmeric extract.
  5. They care more about profits than providing the best turmeric supplement for their customers.

Unfortunately, they are mostly guilty of number 2 - deliberately misleading and falsifying information - although there is a good chance they are guilty of all scenarios. Why would they deliberately mislead their potential customers?

The simple answer is to make money. Turmeric extract is much more expensive to source than turmeric powder. To make turmeric extract, manufacturers need to use a large amount of turmeric powder to isolate enough curcuminoids to obtain a mixture of 95% curcuminoids. Turmeric supplement companies can turn a bigger profit by selling and advertising turmeric powder because it’s a fraction of the cost of turmeric powder.

The next time you see a turmeric supplement advertised as “highest potency turmeric available” on Amazon with only 50 mgs of turmeric extract per capsule, your face might turn red knowing they are intentionally misleading you.

You don’t have to take our word for it. We took screenshots of five top-selling turmeric supplements on Amazon to compare their labels and show you the false claims. You can practice reading labels and see how Active Atoms Turmeric Extract compares to these five turmeric brands by reading this article:

Misleading claims about Turmeric – 5 examples and how to read labels

Picking a turmeric supplement

Now that we are aware to avoid misleading marketing, we can focus on picking a potent turmeric supplement. What should you look for?

Amount of turmeric extract per capsule

Are there at least 500 mgs of turmeric extract per capsule? If not, then you might be taking a handful of capsules to get the optimal daily dose of turmeric extract. Many turmeric companies only have 50-150 mgs of turmeric extract per capsule. Active Atoms has 750 mgs of turmeric extract per capsule making it 15x stronger than many brands.

You would have to take 15 capsules from many brands to get the same benefits as one capsule of Active Atoms.

BioPerine®

Does the turmeric extract include black pepper extract (BioPerine®)? Curcumin has poor bioavailability meaning that its poorly absorbed by the body resulting in lost health benefits. BioPerine®, a patented and potent form of black pepper extract, solves many absorption problems since its shown by research to increase the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000%. Active Atoms Turmeric Extract contains 5 mgs of BioPerine® per capsule to maximize curcumin absorption.

Lead testing

This might be the most important factor when picking a turmeric supplement. A 2019 Stanford study showed lead contamination in some turmeric powder due to chemicals added to increase the vibrancy of its yellow color. The side effects of lead toxicity include irreversible brain and nerve damage especially in children.

The good news is that turmeric extract uses a water dispersion technology that allows for the separation of all compounds which can also eliminate unwanted substances.

Even though turmeric extract is less likely to be contaminated compared to turmeric powder, we take no chances with our turmeric extract. We regularly send Active Atoms Turmeric Extract to an independent lab to test for lead and we provide full transparency by posting the lead testing report on the home page of our website.

The issue of lead contamination in turmeric powder certainly makes us question whether turmeric supplements that contain turmeric powder are safe. You would think more companies would report their lead testing results, if they even test for lead, but we haven’t seen any other company do so.

Be smart and responsible

Regardless of what nutraceutical product we decide to consume, we should always discuss its usage with our health care provider. And of course, we should always include optimal nutritional intake, exercise, stress management, and sufficient rest and sleep along with any treatment or well-being protocol.

It’s worth noting that turmeric supplements are not without side effects. People who bleed easily or who are currently undergoing immunotherapy treatments for cancer should not take turmeric. Even though curcumin is healthy for most people and beneficial for numerous medical conditions, you should still do your homework to determine whether turmeric extract is right for you.

You can learn more about the side effects of turmeric supplements by reading this comprehensive article:

What are the side effects of Turmeric Supplements?

The Takeaway

Curcumin has over 35,000 reference in medical literature, many of which show benefits for joint pain, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Alzheimer’s Disease, memory, digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and IBS, cancer, depression, and immune health. It makes sense to start taking a high potency turmeric supplement according to the recommended dosages used in many independent studies.

The evidence, thus far, shows that 500-2000 mgs of turmeric extract per day is best for providing therapeutic benefits for a wide range of health issues. After you have consulted with your doctor, the next step is to choose a turmeric supplement with at least 500 mgs of turmeric extract per capsule and BioPerine® to enhance absorption. And last but not least, check for lead testing by an independent lab to stay away from contamination.

You can check off all those boxes with Active Atoms Turmeric Extract. If you are ready to support your body with a healthy inflammatory and immune response, then try Active Atoms today. We offer a 100-day money-back guarantee and if you have any questions you can email us at info@activeatoms.com.

Choose the best option for your health below:

About Dr. Marc Robinson, PT, DPT, Cert. MDT