It is often said that turmeric can hardly be utilized so it is of no use if you season with turmeric or drink turmeric tea. We explain how to increase the effect of turmeric with simple measures.
Increase the bioavailability of turmeric
Anyone who uses turmeric (Kurkuma longa L.) for seasoning also wants to benefit as much as possible from the root and its health properties. Finally, turmeric has anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, liver-regenerating, bile flow-promoting, detoxifying, antimicrobial, blood-sugar-lowering, wound-healing, intestinal-friendly, immune-system-regulating effects, and much more. So it would be a shame if you didn’t know all the little tricks you can use to increase the bioavailability of turmeric.
Bioavailable means that the health-relevant active ingredients from turmeric are actually absorbed (taken up in the intestine), enter the bloodstream, and remain there for a sufficiently long time before they are broken down and excreted. Only then can they unfold their beneficial effects in the body.
Turmeric needs fat
One of the best-known complexes of active ingredients in turmeric is curcumin or the so-called curcuminoids. They are also what gives turmeric its beautiful yellow color. However, curcumin is fat-soluble. So if you prepare soups without fat or add turmeric to fruit salad, you won’t benefit so much from the curcumin and other fat-soluble substances in the turmeric root at first glance (!). The same goes for turmeric tea.
It is therefore advisable to always add a few drops of oil or other fatty ingredients (e.g. rice milk, oat milk, nut or almond butter, or similar) to any recipe with turmeric.
However, turmeric root naturally always contains some fat – more than protein. So nature has already taken precautions and provided at least a small amount of fat (at least 10 percent of the root). However, studies show (see below) that additional fat supplements clearly increase bioavailability.
Can turmeric be heated?
Boiling, frying, or otherwise heating turmeric reduces its curcumin content. A study from 1992 showed that the curcumin content in turmeric was reduced by up to 85 percent if the spice was boiled for between 15 and 30 minutes. If black pepper is used, the piperine in it is also reduced by 50 to 60 percent. For comparison: Capsaicin in chilies is only broken down by 0 – 30 percent under the same circumstances, so it is significantly more heat-resistant.
A few years later (2007), another study on this topic showed that cooking in a pressure cooker (for 10 minutes) in particular leads to enormous curcumin losses (up to 53 percent).
Heat leads to losses, but at the same time improves bioavailability
On the other hand, there are studies that show that heating turmeric – i.e. frying, boiling, etc. – increases the bioavailability of curcumin because it improves its originally poor water solubility. If the curcumin is treated in boiling water for 10 minutes, this increases its solubility by a factor of 12, which of course means that it can also be better absorbed and the quantitative losses mentioned above could therefore be compensated for by a qualitative improvement.
Turmeric is better cooked than raw
A Chinese study from 2015 found that although noticeable amounts of curcumin dissolved in the dressing even when used raw (for example in a salad dressing), heating to 100 degrees led to a significantly higher amount of curcumin dissolved. In the digestive tract, it was found that more curcumin could be absorbed from the heated solution than from the salad dressing. Therefore, the researchers involved recommended not offering curcumin for curcumin preparations in raw food quality, but rather heating it beforehand.
Antioxidant effect of curcumin increases after heating
In a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Ayurvedic And Herbal Medicine, researchers wrote that antioxidant activities in turmeric extracts were higher after boiling or roasting than before. On the other hand, in ginger, which was also studied, the antioxidant power decreased after cooking and roasting.
When heated, new active ingredients are created
Even when curcumin is heated at high temperatures for long periods of time, health benefits still result. A study by the University of Kiel showed that curcumin, which is heated for 70 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius, produces other substances (vanillin, ferulic acid, etc.), which in turn have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Whether decomposition into new substances is now desirable, since curcumin would have these properties anyway, is of course questionable. However, the study results mentioned are at least an argument for the fact that even prolonged heating is not necessarily accompanied by a loss of the positive curcumin properties.
However, since turmeric not only consists of curcumin, but also other substances that may be heat-sensitive, you should not always boil or fry turmeric (for so long), but always use it raw in the form of the fresh root.
Turmeric in the kitchen: Heat and fat can create new healing substances
Based on the above findings, people like to combine both: heat and fat, which often happens automatically when preparing food. A German study from 2014 found that heating turmeric in coconut or olive oil also leads to the formation of so-called “deketene curcumin”, a new substance that has even better anti-cancer properties than curcumin.
In a 2010 Egyptian study, it was found that curcumin heated in sunflower oil protected against oxidative stress and showed a protective effect on the liver in particular, e.g. B. when they have to constantly detox from alcohol or are exposed to pollutants from unhealthy fats.
Turmeric and Piperine
It is known that black pepper or the secondary plant substance piperine it contains can increase the bioavailability of curcumin by a factor of 20, as an old study from 1998 found. It is sufficient if 1 percent piperine is added to the curcumin, which did not cause any negative side effects in the human test subjects.
It should be noted, however, that piperine can not only increase the bioavailability of curcumin but also of other substances, e.g. B. of medication if they are taken at the same time. This can lead to medications working differently or more strongly than desire. Both should therefore be taken at different times with an interval of several hours. Furthermore, discuss the matter with your doctor.
In March 2014, the bioavailability of a new form of curcumin, available only as a dietary supplement, was studied: micellar curcumin. With the so-called micelle technology, it was possible to make the fat-soluble curcumin water-soluble. To do this, it is “packed” in small bubbles (micelles), which makes it liquid and in this form, it can be easily absorbed into the aqueous environment inside the cell.
Comparing the bioavailability of micellar curcumin with that of normal curcumin powder showed that the former was on average 185 times higher than the latter. In women, it was even 277 times higher (in men it was still 114 times higher). However, preservatives are added to micellar curcumin (polysorbate 80). However, it is precisely this substance that is said to be able to contribute to intestinal flora disorders and even to intestinal inflammation, so micellar curcumin is only recommended to a limited extent (e.g. over a short period of time).
There is also no study to date that has specifically examined whether the effect and tolerability of micellar curcumin are better than that of “normal” curcumin. So far, only the bioavailability has ever been checked.
Is turmeric better than curcumin?
Since turmeric not only contains curcumin but also many other substances that reinforce each other’s effectiveness (synergy effect), there are now indications that the consumption of turmeric is in some cases more sensible than taking curcumin alone.
From a holistic point of view, it is therefore advisable not to focus exclusively on curcumin, but always to use whole food – preferably in addition to a curcumin supplement.
Increasing the bioavailability of turmeric – summary
In summary, the following can be said about increasing the bioavailability of turmeric or its active ingredients:
- Heat increases curcumin’s water solubility by 12-fold.
- Heat increases the water solubility of turmeric by 3 times.
- Curcumin is broken down in the body within 30 minutes, a previous heat treatment stabilizes the curcumin so that it can work in the body longer.
- Heating turmeric in oil at 100 degrees further increases its bioavailability.
- If you heat turmeric, other substances are created that also have medicinal, i.e. healing, effects. So even if the quantity of certain substances decreases as a result of heating, new active substances are created which means that there is no loss of activity.
- It has not been clarified whether extreme increases in bioavailability through technological measures are necessary or harmless in the long term (keyword “micellar curcumin”) since most previous turmeric/curcumin studies – which first showed the healing properties – with “normal “ Turmeric/Curcumin were carried out.
- Since turmeric not only contains curcumin but also many other substances that reinforce each other’s effectiveness, it is suspected that turmeric could even be more effective than isolated curcumin: turmeric works better than curcumin. It is therefore advisable (especially in the case of illness) to consume both: turmeric (cooked and raw alternately) and a dietary supplement with curcumin.