Curcumin supplements continue to show great potential in multiple areas of health, including joint flexibility and athletic recovery – but how does curcumin differ from turmeric and what’s important to look for in a supplement?
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) describes the brightly coloured root which is often powdered and used in cooking but is now finding popularity as a nutritional supplement. Within turmeric, we find a number of curcuminoids – active compounds that are responsible for the plant’s wide range of potential health benefits. The most researched of these is curcumin. Turmeric contains around 2-8% curcumin but a curcumin supplement could contain up to 95% of this key substance.
Considering that we have the choice between turmeric or curcumin supplements – which is best? Ultimately, it appears they both demonstrate benefits in research, but for exercise and athletic performance, curcumin may have the upper hand.
Curcumin is classified as a polyphenol, a naturally occurring compound with powerful biological effects. It specifically demonstrates strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in research1 more so than turmeric supplements and it’s these benefits that support exercise. The beneficial effects of curcumin also have the backing of a larger number of clinical trials than turmeric as curcumin research continues to grow.
CURCUMIN IN EXERCISE PERFORMANCE AND RECOVERY
Inflammation is the body’s response to injury and stress, which occurs when we exert the muscles in exercise. Some inflammation is helpful as it triggers the healing of the muscles post-exercise. When inflammation becomes too much, however, it can damage the muscles, inhibit performance and delay recovery2.
Curcumin has been shown to inhibit an inflammatory protein in the body known as NF-κB 3 subsequently reducing the painful inflammation response experienced by the muscles post-exercise. Many studies have identified curcumin’s anti-inflammatory action in exercise, related to reduced muscle damage, better recovery times and improved performance4.
In an example study involving athletes, curcumin supplements combined with the compound piperine (more on that later) were shown to reduce various aspects of muscle damage caused by athletic training5. In fact, curcumin is considered such a reliable anti-inflammatory that various scientific trials compare it to the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs, but without the associated side-effects6.
Curcumin also has proven antioxidant capacity, able to neutralise the excessive free radicals produced during intense exercise which may also lead to delayed recovery and muscle damage.
GOOD FORM IS IMPORTANT
Curcumin is the main compound in turmeric which delivers its benefits, but it’s not the only one. Demethoxycurcumin (DMC) and bisdemethoxycurcumin (BDMC) join curcumin as the most important nutritional components of the turmeric plant. When combined, these three curcuminoids demonstrate more antioxidant activity than curcumin alone. This unique combination of curcuminoids is present in the evidence-based formulation Curcumin C3 Complex® which is standardized (guaranteeing consistent levels of these key curcuminoids) and is shown to absorb well in the body in research.
FOOD VS SUPPLEMENT
While there’s nothing wrong with the inclusion of dietary curcumin (from turmeric) in cooking or smoothies, it’s unlikely to give the benefits that a supplement which is standardized for curcuminoids (like Curcumin C3 Complex®) can give.
One teaspoon (5g) of turmeric powder contains around 200 mg of curcumin. While this sounds great on paper, research suggests that almost none of that curcumin would enter the bloodstream7. This is because curcumin from turmeric absorbs poorly in the small intestine - but that’s where the compound piperine can help.
An extract of black pepper, piperine can enhance the absorption of curcumin by a dramatic 2000%8. This allows the curcumin to enter the bloodstream and to be delivered to the muscles where it can exert its protective effects. More specifically, the formulation BioPerine® is currently the only piperine formula patented to assure that this significant boost in absorption is successfully delivered.
FOLLOW THE EVIDENCE
When choosing supplements for exercise, curcumin has the edge in research over turmeric – but only if it’s absorbed in the gut. It’s therefore important to choose evidence-based and well-researched formulas shown to absorb well. It’s with this evidence in mind that the RunStrong formula contains both Curcumin C3 Complex® as its source of curcumin alongside the patented BioPerine® – for maximized absorption and assured delivery of results.
1. Zhang, D. W., Fu, M., Gao, S. H., & Liu, J. L. (2013). Curcumin and diabetes: a systematic review. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2013, 636053. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/636053
2. Cerqueira, É., Marinho, D. A., Neiva, H. P., & Lourenço, O. (2020). Inflammatory Effects of High and Moderate Intensity Exercise-A Systematic Review. Frontiers in physiology, 10, 1550. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2019.01550
3. Esatbeyoglu, T., Huebbe, P., Ernst, I. M., Chin, D., Wagner, A. E., & Rimbach, G. (2012). Curcumin--from molecule to biological function. Angewandte Chemie (International ed. in English), 51(22), 5308–5332. https://doi.org/10.1002/anie.201107724
4. Suhett, L. G., de Miranda Monteiro Santos, R., Silveira, B., Leal, A., de Brito, A., de Novaes, J. F., & Lucia, C. (2021). Effects of curcumin supplementation on sport and physical exercise: a systematic review. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 61(6), 946–958. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2020.1749025
5. Delecroix, B., Abaïdia, A. E., Leduc, C., Dawson, B., & Dupont, G. (2017). Curcumin and Piperine Supplementation and Recovery Following Exercise Induced Muscle Damage: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of sports science & medicine, 16(1), 147–153.
6. Takada, Y., Bhardwaj, A., Potdar, P., & Aggarwal, B. B. (2004). Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents differ in their ability to suppress NF-kappaB activation, inhibition of expression of cyclooxygenase-2 and cyclin D1, and abrogation of tumor cell proliferation. Oncogene, 23(57), 9247–9258. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.onc.1208169
7. Anand, P., Kunnumakkara, A. B., Newman, R. A., & Aggarwal, B. B. (2007). Bioavailability of curcumin: problems and promises. Molecular pharmaceutics, 4(6), 807–818. https://doi.org/10.1021/mp700113r
8. Sharma, V., Nehru, B., Munshi, A., & Jyothy, A. (2010). Antioxidant potential of curcumin against oxidative insult induced by pentylenetetrazol in epileptic rats. Methods and findings in experimental and clinical pharmacology, 32(4), 227–232. https://doi.org/10.1358/mf.2010.32.4.1452090