What Is the Difference Between Curcumin & Turmeric?

Turmeric is a natural spice, originally from India, traditionally used not only to flavor foods, but also for its therapeutic benefits. Used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric and responsible for its health-giving antioxidant effects.

Although the names are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between turmeric and curcumin. (Image: Sundaemorning/iStock/GettyImages)

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Although the names are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between turmeric and curcumin. Curcumin is a pigment derived from the roots of the plant Curcuma longa, commonly known as turmeric, according to Pubchem.

Nutritional Difference Between Turmeric and Curcumin

Turmeric, the yellowish spice that gives curry its vivid color, is an excellent source of manganese, supplying 26 percent of the recommended daily value (DV) per teaspoon, according to USDA. Manganese activates enzymes in your body that play important roles in the metabolism of amino acids, carbohydrates and cholesterol, according to Linus Pauling Institute.

Per teaspoon, turmeric supplies 9 percent of the DV for iron, states USDA. Iron is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells, called hemoglobin, which are important for transporting oxygen to every organ in your body.

Other minerals and vitamins in turmeric that contribute to your health include:

  • Copper
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin E

A teaspoon of ground turmeric also contains 3 percent DV for fiber, which is important for the health of your digestive system, and 1 percent DV for protein.

Curcumin Benefits to Your Health

Turmeric contains pharmacologic curcuminoid compounds, which act as antioxidants that block the formation of free radicals. Curcumin benefits to your health also come from its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and anticarcinogenic properties, according to an overview in the Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine, published in January-June 2013.

The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of turmeric and its extract curcumin are also used to treat digestive complaints including ingestion, diarrhea and liver disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. Turmeric has been used in traditional Indian medicine to treat conditions including upper respiratory infections and is being evaluated for the treatment of diabetes, high cholesterol and some liver conditions. Further studies are ongoing to determine the safety of long-term use in high doses.

Curcumin benefits were the subject of an October 2017 meta analysis, published in the Nutrition Journal, that reviewed studies involving 649 patients to assess the effect of its potential lipid-lowering effect, including LDL and HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Elevated levels of lipids in the blood contribute to the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Conclusions of the meta analysis found turmeric and curcumin may protect patients at risk of heart disease by improving blood lipid levels. Authors suggested that curcumin could be used as a well-tolerated dietary supplementation to conventional drugs. Further research is required to determine appropriate dosages and frequency of curcumin medications.

Side Effects and Interactions

Used as a flavoring or color agent for food, turmeric is considered safe by the FDA, according to Linus Pauling Institute. Curcumin is available as a dietary supplement without prescription. To meet standards, curcumin supplements should contain 95 percent curcumoids, but they often also contain other compounds to increase bioavailability.

In most cases, curcumin and turmeric side effects are rare. Curcumin supplements have a well-established level of safety and have not resulted in serious adverse effects, reported a study in Foods published in October 2017. However, some subjects who received 500 to 12,000 milligrams of curcumin experienced negative side effects, including diarrhea, headache, rash and yellow stools. It remains unclear as to whether the reaction was from the curcumin or another substance in the supplement.

From the results of in vitro studies that found curcumin may inhibit blood clotting, Linus Pauling Institute reports that researchers suggest a potential for turmeric supplements to increase the risk of bleeding in people taking anticoagulant drugs. If you are taking warfarin, aspirin or other medications to reduce blood clotting, consult your doctor before taking large amounts of turmeric or curcumin supplements.

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