When you swallow any natural health product (NHP) like an herb, vitamin or any other supplement in a capsule, lozenge, or tablet, you expect that the product gets absorbed into the blood andreaches the target site, whether it is a sore knee, an inflamed ankle or a sluggish liver you are trying to invigorate. Bioavailability is a fancy pharmaceutical term that describes how much of an active ingredient is absorbed into the blood by the body and remains unchanged before it reaches its target destination1. It’s a common fallacy to think that just because one is taking a natural product,
The Skinny on AOR’s Free Form Curcumin
Now that curcumin is the hottest thing since sliced bread, we feel it is time to finally set the record straight and get down to the nitty gritty bits of what makes a truly superior, effective curcumin formulation.
So, let’s take a few steps back and start at the beginning. Curcumin—one of the active ingredients in turmeric root is one of three bright pigments that give it its beautiful golden colour. As a whole, these pigments are known as curcuminoids.
Traditionally, turmeric root has many uses: as a digestive aid, preservative, and blood purifier, but its main action is as an anti-inflammatory.
Unfortunately, turmeric’s success as an anti-inflammatory requires extremely high doses, because it is insoluble in water, and in many cases fat. This means that it has a very hard time dissolving, so absorption becomes exceptionally difficult. Ever notice how turmeric powder just falls to the bottom of your glass or bottle when it is added to water or pressed juice? You are left with this yellow sediment because it has so much trouble dissolving, which results in poor bioavailability. Bioavailability is just a fancy way of referring to how much of a substance is actually absorbed and gets into the blood stream.
Obviously, Ayurveda figured this out quickly and came up with ways to assist in absorption by slightly altering it. Turmeric was usually boiled or heated before ingestion, or heated and suspended in a fat such as ghee or milk. Another important thing to keep in mind, is that turmeric’s curcuminoids are mostly responsible for the anti-inflammatory activity, but only make up about 2-6% of the total content of the root. Because curcuminoids are little “powerhouses”—particularly curcumin, researchers wanted to find a way to increase their concentration for maximum benefit. These factors led the industry to create more “bioavailable” curcumin formulas with a higher concentration of curcuminoids.
The first in a series of “altered” curcumin formulations is known as standardized curcumin-95. Here, turmeric undergoes an extraction process, where the curcumin is standardized from 2% to 95%. Although this produces a stronger curcumin formulation, the buck doesn’t just stop here. Granted, the higher amount of curcumin is now concentrated and therefore more potent, but the issue of absorbability/bioavailability has not been correctly addressed and here is why.
The human body is a complex organism that undergoes extremely finite processes each second. Many of these processes are governed by the liver—the metabolic center. It is responsible for many things, but most importantly detoxification. Simply put, the liver breaks down and removes substances from the body. One step in this process is known as conjugation, where specific liver enzymes essentially “tag” a substance by attaching themselves to it which then readies it for removal from the body. Conjugation is often referred to as biotransformation because not only is the structure altered, the substance loses its original potency, i.e. strength in effect. Moreover, for some reason the body just loves to readily conjugate curcumin and seal its fate as what I like to describe as “broken and or chained” curcumin. I use this analogy because it is as if the body literally takes curcumin prisoner and shackles it with a ball and chain during conjugation; therefore, ensuring that it’s not free to incite a healing revolution within. Thus, a clear understanding of this process of rapid breakdown sets the stage for what is known as Free Form Curcumin, aka unbroken, unadulterated curcumin; AOR being the first in Canada to bring it market back in 2006.
Now here is the skinny–for real. To date, the only two curcumin formulations in the world that successfully evade rapid break down by the liver and produce Free Form Curcumin, are Longvida and CurQFen. These two raw materials are the only ones that have peer reviewed clinical trials to prove this. Also, study results for numerous curcumin formulations are often skewed when it comes to naturally occurring Free Form vs. conjugated curcumin. In many cases, a certain chemical is used to literally de-conjugate the tagged curcumin in the blood samples taken from study participants! Unfortunately, this practice generates manipulated test results, and does not accurately reflect the process curcumin undergoes within the body.
This has also led certain companies to claim that the body naturally undergoes this process at a site of inflammation, resulting in ALL curcumin formulas producing Free Form. Not only is this extremely unlikely, it has never been proven in humans regarding curcumin, and goes against the laws of human biochemistry.
However, this is not to say that many of the curcumin formulas on the market don’t work. They do, and many have excellent ingredients and well-designed studies to boot; they are just not as effective, fast acting and long lasting as Free Form. Simple as that.
Consequently, these formulas literally miss the mark with their claims to higher absorbability/bioavailability because they are producing conjugated curcumin–not Free Form, irrespective of how much better absorbed each formula is. So although more curcumin is absorbed, it is in a form that is less active; therefore, less therapeutic which inevitably results in a less effective product.
That said, what kind of curcumin do you want coursing through your veins? One that is “broken and chained,” or one that is whole and free to move around uninhibited and do what it does best? The choice is yours.