Curcumin supplements are immensely beneficial to patients, in theory. After all, curcumin is renowned for its anti-inflammatory effects, its support for the cardiovascular system, and its ability to boost the immune system. But despite widespread use of curcumin supplements, countless numbers of patients have reported their disappointment with the products they’ve purchased and led many to wonder, “Do curcumin supplements work?” Today, that is changing, as curcumin supplements formulated for high bioavailability enter the market and open the door to significant therapeutic benefits. For patients that don’t know the story behind curcumin supplements, however, knowing which curcumin supplement to purchase is still a shot in the dark.
To get to the bottom of what differentiates good curcumin supplements from ineffective ones, we talked to Al Czap, the founder of Thorne Research and Tesseract Medical Research. Czap has worked for over a decade to produce a curcumin supplement that will give patients the results they to optimize their health. As a result, Czap has established himself as a leading expert on the past, present, and future of curcumin as a nutritional supplement and therapeutic. With Czap’s advice, patients can finally find the products that help them realize the true potential of curcumin.
The Deep Roots of Curcumin Supplementationthe turmeric root, which is a common spice that is present in curry. “In the East, people have been using turmeric root as a flavoring and a spice for thousands of years,” Czap explains. However, the flavor of turmeric wasn’t the only draw; people who consumed turmeric as part of their diets seemed to experience fewer problems associated with old age. “They had a lower incidence of arthritic problems and joint problems”. “It also provides some cardiovascular support, and it’s good for wound healing,” he continues.1 The medicinal properties of turmeric root prompted researchers to investigate further with the intent of turning its active ingredients into drugs—but they soon found that unlocking curcumin’s potential would take far more work than they originally anticipated.
Understanding the Challenges of Early Curcumin Supplements
Turning curcumin into an effective nutritional supplement has taken the better part of a hundred years of effort. Part of this effort was to identify how turmeric was capable of improving the health of people who consumed it in their diets. “In the 20th century, they figured out the active component of turmeric was curcumin so that you didn’t need to eat a pound of curry to get your curcumin,” Czap says. This provided an ostensibly clear path toward operationalizing curcumin: manufacturers would need to isolate curcumin from the turmeric root and package it is supplement form. But isolating curcumin from turmeric wasn’t the only challenge that researchers had to overcome to produce an effective, patient-ready supplement.
While the taste of turmeric may be prized in cooking, curcumin’s flavor acted as a major barrier to its therapeutic use. This is because While isolating curcumin retains the spiced flavor of turmeric, making even encapsulated supplements unpleasant for patients who disliked its taste. “If you took curcumin and put it in juice, it’d be pretty nasty,” Czap says, speaking from personal experience.
To complicate matters further, patients couldn’t get away with only a small dose; according to Czap, “You had to take quite a bit to get a therapeutic amount.” Furthermore, even when patients managed to consume a considerable amount of curcumin, they didn’t always experience any beneficial effects. Their bodies appeared to process curcumin too inefficiently for it to be of any use, leading many to write off curcumin as a possible therapy. Supplement manufacturers responded by using new chemical formulations of curcumin which sought to improve bioavailability but ended up struggling with palatability yet again. “They made a liposomal form that is more well-absorbed than regular curcumin but tasted horrible,” Czap says. “The liposomal products are typically recommended to be held under your tongue for five or ten minutes. As you can imagine, the formulation never took off because the taste of it is absolutely wretched.” In other words, solving the bioavailability problem didn’t solve the tolerability problem, and the only way forward was to develop products that could solve accomplish both.
Turning Curcumin Into a Workhorse
In the 2010s, after decades of investigation, researchers found the missing piece of the puzzle needed to produce a curcumin supplement that was both palatable and effective. “The researchers discovered that curcumin itself is not what affects the body,” Czap explains. “Rather, your body has to break the curcumin down in the liver before it becomes the active form.” More specifically, researchers had found that the liver metabolizes curcumin into an active byproduct chemical which can subsequently affect the body’s tissues. That active byproduct chemical is called tetrahydrocurcumin.
By discovering that tetrahydrocurcumin was responsible for the therapeutic effects of curcumin, researchers could finally explain why patients needed to take so much curcumin: the body couldn’t convert it into tetrahydrocurcumin quickly enough and cleared the tetrahydrocurcumin from the bloodstream too rapidly for it to ever have an effect on the body’s tissues. By isolating tetraohydrocurcumin, it would be possible to bypass the conversion process and introduce the therapeutic chemical to the body directly. Significantly, this also meant that the minimum dose necessary to experience beneficial effects could be drastically minimized.
“Tetrahydrocurcumin is the workhorse,” Czap says. “If you compare how effective the patient’s body is at absorbing curcumin versus tetrahydrocurcumin, the tetrahydrocurcumin is 3.5 to 4 times as effective as the curcumin.” As such, both clinical research and patient anecdotes typically report significantly better symptom relief when taking tetrahydrocurcumin vs. taking curcumin. Finally, Czap had the tools he needed to make an effective curcumin supplement.
Realizing the Potential of Tetrahydrocurcumin Supplementsan advanced delivery system designed to optimize bioavailability. As Czap says, “Tesseract Medical is the only company that takes tetrahydrocurcumin and puts it into a molecular trap and makes it ready for release at the right time.”
The promise of tetrahydrocurcumin supplements has only started to reveal itself, but research suggests that it can be beneficial for patients with a wide range of health concerns, including inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.2 And while clinical trials describing curcumin’s efficacy remain forthcoming, Czap has witnessed how tetrahydrocurcumin supplements are already transforming the lives of patients.
- Mondal NK, Behera J, Kelly KE, George AK, Tyagi PK, et al. 2019. Tetrahydrocurcumin epigenetically mitigates mitochondrial dysfunction in brain vasculature during ischemic stroke. Neurochemistry International. 122:120-138. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30472160
- Hsu CH and Cheng AL. 2007. Clinical studies with curcumin. Advance Experiments in Medical Biology. 595:471-480. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17569225