New Research on Turmeric & Black Pepper
For quite some time now, turmeric/curcumin products have been one of the most popular items in the herb section wherever one finds supplements. It is easy to see why this popularity shows no sign of waning, with the myriad applications this substance has for health conditions ranging from joint inflammation to liver support to brain health. In this newsletter we will look at some of the most recent (and eye-opening) research available on this herbal superstar. In addition, we will discuss the popular perception that turmeric products cannot be absorbed without black pepper extract, and also some surprising news about the black pepper extract itself. For this article, the terms turmeric and curcumin will be used interchangeably.
What Does Curcumin Do?
Without a doubt, the most well-known and popular property of curcumin is that of its anti-inflammatory action, particularly with regard to joint health. Both singly and in formulas, curcumin's anti-inflammatory power simply makes people feel better. It works. How it works, however, is interesting and a bit different than assumed previously. Reams and reams of clinical studies have shown that curcumin is anti-inflammatory in multiple pathways, predominantly as a COX-2 inhibitor. (The drug Celebrex is a COX inhibitor.) Reams and reams of clinical evidence have also shown that curcumin is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream, as well as being rapidly metabolized. It may be said that it has an extremely short half-life. Because of this poor absorption, methods have been developed to increase bioavailability. These include nanotechnology, fats, and, most famously, black pepper extract, also known as BioPerine, a trademarked and widely-used extract.
Newest Research on Curcumin's Mechanism & Absorption
As one of the most studied herbs out there, this means that new research's conclusions are constantly coming to light. Some of the newest information about the primary mechanism through which curcumin exerts its effects comes from studies by Shobha Ghosh, Ph.D., professor of medicine and physiology at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Medicine. (To take a look at one study, click here.) According to Ghosh and her team, the typical Western diet, due to its highly inflammatory nature, affects the intestinal barrier at several levels. Not only does it contribute to high levels of harmful (and inflammatory) bacteria, but this unhealthful diet also decreases the expression of tight junction proteins that are required to restrict the movement of these inflammatory compounds into the bloodstream.
“Collectively, these direct effects of Western diet on the intestinal wall itself result in the movement of bacteria-derived toxin into the circulation where it contributes to the low-grade chronic inflammation.”
— Shobha Ghosh, Ph.D.
Ghosh notes that once in circulation, the bacteria-derived toxins can activate key cells involved with metabolic diseases as well as inflammation. Her team found that oral curcumin, with its well-known poor absorption, was able to protect and restore normal intestinal barrier function, in essence "tightening up" the membrane junctions to reduce intestinal permeability, thereby preventing the influx of inflammatory compounds.
This is fascinating information on how curcumin accomplishes some of its anti-inflammatory effects. It exhibits its anti-inflammatory action in an indirect manner rather than being itself directly anti-inflammatory. What this means is, contrary to prior belief, the level/rate of absorption of curcumin into the bloodstream is not terribly important. It does not need to be in high levels in the blood to work its wonderful magic! One important result of this finding is that curcumin may help prevent leaky-gut syndrome. (To watch Dr. Ghosh's talk, click here.)
Black Pepper Extract—Why?
Many people in our store looking for curcumin products tell us that they were told that these products are useless unless they also contain black pepper extract. This was never exactly true. Using certain extraction methods including the addition of the volatile oil compounds present; taking your curcumin product with a fat source (butter, olive or coconut oils); certain nanotechnology delivery systems; all of these enhance absorption.
Aside from the recent research revelation that absorption isn't so important after all, there is some information regarding black pepper extract which may be of interest. First of all, black pepper extract, or BioPerine, undeniably improves absorption of nearly anything with which it is taken. It is the mechanism by which this occurs that is not such a good thing, as we will see. The concentrated extract of black pepper acts as an irritant to the mucosal membranes of the intestinal barrier. It essentially disrupts proper barrier function and increases intestinal permeability. This is how it allows compounds to have increased absorption. However, increasing the ability of compounds to cross the intestinal barrier means that undesirable compounds are also let through the loose junctions created. In other words, leaky gut syndrome is set up or exacerbated. This is certainly not a desirable condition.
Another problem with BioPerine is that it inhibits Phase I liver detoxification through its action on a critical detox enzyme. This means that many pharmaceutical drugs, among other things, are not properly metabolized and excreted, keeping them in the body longer and possibly causing harm, not to mention the issue of adjusting dosages for these medications due to this. People on certain/multiple medications thus may wish to be cautious when taking BioPerine-enhanced products. It is also important to stress that normal culinary black pepper use will not produce these effects, only the concentrated extract.
Evergreen Nutrition is proud to stock more than 40 different turmeric and curcumin products in all sorts of delivery systems. We have options with black pepper extract and without and, as always, we strive to offer you optimum options for healthy living.
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The information provided here is for educational purposes only. None of the research or evidence presented here is intended as a substitute for consulting an appropriate healthcare professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products offered here are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you believe that you may have a disease condition, please consult your healthcare practitioner before using this or any other dietary supplement.
Although we do our best to keep this website current, always check the product label for the most up-to-date information since product changes may not be immediately updated on our website. Feel free to contact us if you notice any discrepancies. Thank you.