These supplements are made from curcumin (which is almost always derived from turmeric) and usually, at least one additional ingredient.
The manufacturers will claim these extra ingredients help to ensure more of the active ingredient makes its way into your system, instead of being flushed out before absorption. But how much does it really help, if any?
Rather than review every brand of turmeric and curcumin product on the market (there are hundreds!) it makes more sense to review their added proprietary ingredients.
Why? Because the same 6 proprietary ingredients are used by hundreds of different brands and products. They purchase the patented ingredient (a proprietary form of curcumin or a separate substance which increases absorption when used in conjunction) to use in their capsules, tablets, pills, and powders. For example, there are dozens of different turmeric capsules on the market which contain BioPerine (the proprietary ingredient).
Here’s a look at the 6 top rated curcumin supplements used by countless brands and products, how they compare, as well as the drawbacks of each.
Curcumin and its health benefits
First, it’s important to differentiate between turmeric and curcumin. Curcumin is the active ingredient/compound in turmeric and has been used in herbal medicine for over 4,000 years in many parts of the world.
More recently, scientific research has suggested there may be benefits relating to inflammation1, indigestion (including dyspepsia, bloating, and gas), ulcerative colitis, stomach ulcers, osteoarthritis, heart disease (including atherosclerosis and lowering LDL cholesterol), blood clotting, antibacterial and antiviral properties, uveitis (a form of eye inflammation), neurodegenerative conditions (including Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, and multiple sclerosis), and even preliminary results suggesting anti-cancer properties2.
Since this root is an antioxidant with a high ORAC value of 127,068, it may help in reducing damage to cells and DNA caused by free radical molecules.
As more and more research demonstrates the benefits of curcumin in the diet, supplement companies have created an entire industry around this compound. But which products will give you the most bioavailable dose? You’ll soon find out…
Composition: 1-2% piperine in long pepper, 5-10% in commercial black and white peppers
We’re including this non-proprietary ingredient on the list since many of the lower-end supplements use it.
Piperine is an alkaloid found in black pepper, and is notorious for its ability to increase the bioavailability for an array of nutrients. It does this by inhibiting key enzymes for metabolism, preventing substances from leaving cells, decreasing intestinal activity, and stimulating useful amino-acids. All of these changes work to keep substances in the body’s cells longer.
In the case of curcumin, several studies have demonstrated how piperine aids in absorption. One such study published in Planta Med in 1998 demonstrated that the bioavailability of curcumin with piperine in humans increased up to 2,000% (yes, that’s two thousand percent!) compared to taking curcumin alone3.
A more recent study published by Neurotoxicity Research in 2011 found that administering piperine along with curcumin enhanced the effect of curcumin in a 25 mg/kg dose, but not in a 50 mg/kg dose4. This suggests the amount consumed will influence bioavailability.
Composition: 95% piperine
BioPerine is technically a brand of ingredient, not the finished product you buy. Curcumin capsules and powders include this ingredient to increase absorption. Typically the amount of BioPerine used is less than 1% by weight.
The brand name BioPerine is owned by Sabinsa Corporation, which manufactures and supplies alternative and natural products including herbal extracts, minerals, and cosmetics. Dr. Muhammed Majeed founded Sabinsa in 1988 and today, the company employs over a thousand people with operations in 11 countries throughout the world.
What is BioPerine complex good for? Well, this peperine-derived product has undergone U.S. clinical trials to validate its safety and efficacy of increasing the bioavailability of not just curcumin, but many other nutrients, too. This method and composition were patented.
The previously mentioned clinical trial that was published in 1998 had examined BioPerine absorption in both rats and humans3. Rats had a much higher absorption rate than humans for both basic curcumin and curcumin with BioPerine, but both groups saw an increase in curcumin concentration in the blood when BioPerine was used.
For humans, when 2g of curcumin per kg of body weight was administered, the maximum blood serum concentration reached was 0.006 mcg/ml. When the same dosage was given with 20 mg of BioPerine, it boosted the levels of curcumin in the blood to 0.18 mcg/ml. It’s true that’s a 30-fold increase, but the decrease from 45 to 60 minutes is dramatic as you can see.
The BioPerine patent (5,536,506) was filed February 24, 19955. A patent is good for 20 years, which means that this one as well the several child patents granted under it are now expired.
That being said, even though nothing legally prevents a competitor now from ripping off Sabinsa’s composition, it still continues to be a good idea to buy products which contain their branded ingredient. Why? Because they have a proven track record of manufacturing it. Newcomers may – or may not – manufacture it as uniformly. After all, Sabinsa has had 20+ years to perfect that process.
The BioPerine ingredient is sold to numerous supplement manufacturers. That means that in addition to the most widely known and best rated turmeric supplements using it, some cheaper (e.g. store brands) and lesser-known brands use it, too.
Composition: 20% curcumin, 80% phospholipids
Longvida, like BioPerine, is a brand of ingredient which is sold to various manufacturers to use in their curcumin products. However unlike BioPerine, which in and of itself does not contain curcumin, this includes it.
Of course you’re probably asking, but what on earth is a phospholipid? They are a type of lipid. But what is a lipid?
The following statement is completely sacrilegious, but to keep things simple, think of a lipid as a synonym for a fat (but technically… fat, as well as phospholipids, waxes, sterols, fat-soluble vitamins, triglycerides, and others are actually subcategories of lipids).
The Longvida curcumin patent (9192644) was filed March 6, 20066. The application’s abstract reads:
“Curcuminoid formulations having enhanced bioavailability are provided and comprise a curcuminoid, antioxidant, glucuronidation inhibitor, and water-soluble, pharmaceutically acceptable inhibitor. A method of treating Alzheimer’s and other age-related diseases by administering such a composition is also provided.”
What’s interesting about their IP strategy is not only did they go for patenting a composition for making curcumin more absorbable, but also, they directed it towards certain diseases.
This composition has a respectable amount of research and clinical studies examining its effectiveness in curcumin absorption. Their website claims that the formula is 65 times more bioavailable than curcumin alone.
They were probably talking about the 2010 article published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, which examined curcumin levels in the blood with and without phospholipids. For healthy adults, plasma curcumin was undetectable when administered alone, while the curcumin/phospholipids cocktail showed a mean peak concentration of curcumin of 22.43 ng/mL7.
Of course this naturally leads to the question: Longvida vs. BioPerine, which is better? The truth is both are good choices. Both have the potential to increase absorption thousands of percent, compared to taking curcumin by itself. So neither is a bad choice.
That being said, since Longvida has demonstrated its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and bind amyloid plaques (a hallmark sign of Alzheimer’s disease), some suggest it may be the preferred choice for research focused on brain-related conditions and traumatic brain injury.
Not to say it doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier, but we are unaware of comparable clinically-validated research proving BioPerine can do that. On the flip side, remember BioPerine has data proving increased bioavailability of not just curcumin, but also other nutrients such as CoQ10.
Composition: 10% curcumin, 90% other curcuminoids (desmethoxycurcumin and bis-desmethoxycurcumin)
Just like the two above, this is a brand of ingredient which is used by supplement manufacturers. As is the case with Longvida, the curcumin is included in this.
But what’s the other 90 percent? Curcumin (the active ingredient we care about) is one of 3 curcuminoids that is naturally found in turmeric. The other two can be thought of as largely inert ingredients: desmethoxycurcumin and bis-desmethoxycurcumin.
Theravalues Corporation, a Japanese bio-venture, developed this patented-form. It’s slightly newer than Longvida, which probably explains why it’s less well-known.
The US version of the Theracurmin patent (application 13/497,586) was filed September 28, 20098. Surprisingly, this patent had very little emphasis on nutrition or healthcare. Its abstract reads as follows:
“The present invention relates to a turmeric pigment composition. More specifically, the present invention provides a turmeric pigment composition in which aggregation and sedimentation of a turmeric pigment over time is effectively prevented even when a concentrated amount of turmeric pigment is incorporated in a solvent; the turmeric pigment composition also ensures a desirable color-developing property, and is capable of stably adding a deep color with a bright tone, which was never accomplished by a hitherto-known colorant.”
In layman’s term, it’s a way to make the turmeric extremely small (a particle diameter of 1 μm or less).
Even though it’s not a medical patent, per se, they sprinkled the application with plenty of language to cover that, too. You don’t have to read far – the second paragraph of it – to see this:
“Moreover, the present invention relates to a turmeric pigment composition superior not only in coloring function but also in absorbability into the body, and thereby useful not only as a colorant but also as a health food; and a preparation method thereof.”
As the case with the other brands, products containing this ingredient also claim its the most bioavailable form of curcumin available. For example, the product Natural Factors CurcuminRich Theracurmin says this on their website:
- More bioavailable than other leading forms of curcumin‡
- More double-blind clinical trials than any other curcumin product
- Contains microscopic curcumin particles in a natural colloidal suspension that is absorbed into the blood faster, and stays there longer
The correlating footnotes for those claims:
‡Scientific scrutiny revealed that Theracurmin was more bioavailable on a milligram-to-milligram basis than other leading* enhanced and regular forms of curcumin.
*As measured by SPINS 2014 data.
Unfortunately, they don’t state what this so-called “scientific scrutiny” is, but one can assume they’re referencing the literature on Theravalues website9. There are 17 original papers linked to there about Theracurmin, and sure enough, it appears the claims are accurate *if* you remember this important caveat… their statement of “other leading forms of curcumin” is subjective. We don’t know what they consider “leading” and which are left out of their match-up altogether.
They don’t state who “Product B” and “Product M” are but if we had to guess, our bet is that it’s BioPerine and Meriva (more on that last brand in a minute).
Other benefits of Theracurmin is that its easily water soluble (and stays dissolved) which makes it ideal for beverages. Furthermore, it proved very stable in light irradiation tests, meaning it’s probably OK when stored in transparent and translucent bottles. Lastly, it proved largely stable when exposed to heat of 95°C and 120°C (203°F and 248°F). That means it holds up in pasteurization, but remember it’s not tested for typical cooking temperatures which are often hotter.
Now in a match-up of Theracurmin versus Longvida, which is best? For brain disease, Longvida still wins since it’s proven to cross the blood-brain barrier. However for the research related to anti-cancer properties, one could argue Theracurmin is superior.
Thanks to a YouTube video by Dr. Michael Murray10, the above chart shows how the amount of Theracurmin absorbed goes up with higher dosages (see the green, red, and blue lines).
Evidence does not demonstrate Longvida doing the same.
The above chart only shows one dosage for Longvida, but we can look at a 2010 study11 where doses of 2, 3, and 4 grams of Longvida were evaluated in 11 patients with osteosarcoma. The higher 3 gram dose actually resulted in less bioavailability than the 2 gram dose (31.42 ng/mL from 3 grams, 32.51 ng/mL from 2 grams).
Meanwhile the 4 gram dose did result in higher absorption, but not as much as you would expect: 41.15 ng/mL. That means only 27% more was absorbed, despite the dosage being 100% higher than 2 mg.
Composition: 20% curcumin, 80% phospholipids
Like the others, this is a brand of an ingredient. It was developed by Indena S.p.A., which is a 90+ year old privately owned Italian company that develops plant-derived materials for use in pharma, nutrition, and personal care products.
The added proprietary ingredient, which they call Phytosome, is used not only as a means of how to increase absorption of curcumin, but also for an array of other branded products they sell such as green tea extract and ginkgo biloba.
Their European patent was filed March 9, 2006 with their US application coming a year later (US 12/281,994)12. The Meriva patent application’s abstract is a simple one-sentence statement that it uses phospholipids complexes to increase bioavailability. More descriptive are the claims, here are the first 3 which sum it up:
1. Phospholipids complexes of curcumin or extracts containing it.
2. The complexes of claim 1, wherein the phospholipids are soy phospholipids.
3. The complexes of claim 2, wherein the phospholipids are selected from phosphatidyl choline, phosphatidyl serine, phosphatidyl ethanolamine.
In a nutshell, it’s curcumin + phospholipids (soy-derived, which are different phospholipids than those in the Longvida patent). The remaining claims on the Meriva application (claims 4 through 9) are merely about the ratios of them used and production methods.
What is the bioavailability of Meriva supplements? The answer is not clear.
Press releases by the company reference a 29-fold (or 2,900%) increase in total curcuminoid absorption. But as touched on in the Theracurcumin composition, remember there are 2 additional curuminoids aside from just free curcumin. Those other 2 are desmethoxycurcumin and bis-desmethoxycurcumin.
In a randomized, double-blind crossover human study involving 9 people with an average age of 35, each participant received either a low dose of Meriva, a high dose of Meriva, or a non-formulated curcuminoid mixture. Published in 2011, this quote from the abstract speaks for itself13:
“Total curcuminoid absorption was about 29-fold higher for Meriva than for its corresponding unformulated curcuminoid mixture, but only phase-2 metabolites could be detected, and plasma concentrations were still significantly lower than those required for the inhibition of most anti-inflammatory targets of curcumin. Remarkably, phospholipid formulation increased the absorption of demethoxylated curcuminoids much more than that of curcumin, with significant differences in plasma curcuminoid profile between Meriva and its corresponding unformulated curcuminoid mixture. Thus, the major plasma curcuminoid after administration of Meriva was not curcumin, but demethoxycurcumin, a more potent analogue in many in vitro anti-inflammatory assays. The improved absorption, and possibly also a better plasma curcuminoid profile, might underlie the clinical efficacy of Meriva at doses significantly lower than unformulated curcuminoid mixtures. (bold emphasis added)”
If additional studies suggest otherwise, we would love to hear about them. Meanwhile, with such a big question mark lingering, it’s hard to comprehend how Meriva supplement reviews can be absolute in claiming superiority versus Longvida, Theracurmin, or other products.
Composition: 86% curcuminoids (curcumin, demethoxycurcuminoid and bis-demethoxycurcuminoid, breakdown of each is undisclosed), 7-9% essential oils naturally present in the turmeric.
Like the others, this is a form of curcumin which is licensed to various supplement brands.
The manufacturer, Arjuna Natural Extracts, is a company headquartered in India. Founded in 1992, they have approximately 300 employees, which includes 40 full-time R&D scientists.
This product is unique in that is derived 100% from turmeric, rather than including additional ingredients and co-factors. Since all of the ingredients come from the plant, it truly is a pure turmeric supplement. Just like phospholipids, those 7-9% essential oils derived from the turmeric are also a type of lipid. If you’re curious, BCM-95’s essential oils are:
- 50% consist of: ar-tumerone,α-tumerone, and β-tumerone
- 50% consist of: Ar-curcumene, a-curcumene, Zingeberene, ß-sesuiphellandrine, ß-atlantone, Germacrone.
Their first US patent for it was filed May 30, 2005 and the application’s abstract sums it up pretty good14:
“A composition for enhanced bioavailability of curcumin including purified curcuminoid and purified essential oil of turmeric. A method to prepare a composition for enhanced bioavailability of curcumin having purified curcuminoid and purified essential oil of turmeric.”
Arjuna’s website cites 14 clinical trials, but only 2 are bioavailability studies; 1 with rats, 1 with humans. The others look at BCM-95 curcumin supplements being used for specific medical issues relating to joints, the urinary tract, mood and stress, cognitive function, inflammatory response, prostate, breast, and liver. If any of those topics are of particular interest to you, visit their website for the complete list of these trials15.
How does its bioavailability compare? Impressive when you look at it compared to plain ol’ curcumin. But if it’s BCM-95 vs. Longvida vs. Theracurmin – or even BioPerine – review this quote from the human clinical trial and you can quickly draw your verdict16.
“In the present clinical study to determine the bioavailability of curcuminoids, a patented formulation, BCM-95 was tested on human volunteer group. Normal curcumin was used in the control group. Curcumin content in blood was estimated at periodical intervals. After a washout period of two weeks the control group and drug group were crossed over BCM-95 and curcumin, respectively. It was also compared with a combination of curcumin-lecithin-piperine which was earlier shown to provide enhanced bioavailability. The results of the study indicate that the relative bioavailability of BCM-95 (Biocurcumax) was about 6.93-fold compared to normal curcumin and about 6.3-fold compared to curcumin-lecithin-piperine formula. BCM-95 thus, has potential for widespread application for various chronic diseases. (bold emphasis added)”
Versus nothing added, a 7x increase is great. However, that’s pale in comparison to some of your other options.
Composition: “Micellar matrix” which is curcumin “preferably between 7 nm and 10 nm” combined with emulsifier(s).
NovaSOL is a proprietary formulation sold to various manufacturers. In the U.S. it’s exclusively sold by Solgar, under the name Full Spectrum Curcumin.
The owner of the formulation is the German company Aquanova, whose main business is making food additives and cosmetics.
The Solgar bottle touts 185x greater bioavailability, but what is that compared to?
It’s versus plain ol’ curcumin. They really should say “up to” 185x because the 10 men in the study tested lower, at 114x. It was the women who had the best absorption17.
Compare that to the 300x for Natural Factors CurcuminRich. Their literature claims “absorption over 300 times compared to regular curcumin.”
Even if NovaSOL is a lower, a unique benefit it touts is that it “remains in the plasma for over 24 hours.”
True, but when you look at the chart of the so-called “micelles” compared to the native form, you see that after the first few hours, blood levels drop off big time.
Only one human study has been published on the NovaSOL curcumin micelles. The prevalence of reported side effects was concerning; nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and others. If you want, you can read more about them in our in-depth NovaSOL review.
In the same study, those getting the regular and micronized forms of curcumin seemed to have much better safety profile (better side effect profiles). Since the participants didn’t know what form they were getting, this is noteworthy.
Since there’s only one trials, this might just be a fluke… or it might not be.
Until more human clinical data comes out, it’s too early to give a verdict. Even if it stays in the blood stream longer to some degree, that perk may not be worth a higher rate of side effects.
Who’s the winner?
For curcumin bioavailability, Theracurmin and Longvida, and NovaSOL are the clear winners. The enhanced absorption with piperine (i.e. BioPerine) is trivial compared to what phospholipids or nano-particle size (i.e. Theracurmin) can accomplish. Presumably this is why Longvida, NovaSOL, and Theracurmin don’t even include piperine… that was a first generation supplement.
If you’re curious, we buy this brand on Amazon and take it 3x daily. Been using it for years, with zero side effects and excellent results.
For curcumin plus other nutrient bioavailability, the old school BioPerine is still a good choice. It has the most versatility of use, since it doesn’t contain curcumin and you can choose the dose yourself. This can be useful, considering that research has pointed to a difference in absorption ability based on dosage amount. Those who care to follow the most current research can change the amount of curcumin they consume based on the latest findings. Plus, it’s fairly cheap versus the phospholipid supplements. With an affordable cost per pill, for a relatively low price you can take more dosages throughout the day, which may help compensate for BioPerine’s inferior absorption.
That said, remember the caveats…
Unfortunately, the clinical trials conducted by the curcumin supplement companies have several limitations that make answering our question difficult.
First off, none are brave enough to compare their product directly with a competitor’s formula on an apples-to-apples. All use standard curcumin as their control group. Beyond that, they also test different dosages with different sample sizes.
Those who do animal trials are unable to say much about absorption in humans, because of the vast differences between human and rat biology. Also, the size of the dose seems to influence the supplement’s effectiveness, as is the case with basic piperine and Longvida. That said, these studies do paint a picture of how well the different ingredients aid curcumin absorption, so we can get a general idea about which product is the best choice.
Should you forget about plain old turmeric?
The United States has an Alzheimer’s/dementia death rate which is the 2nd worst in the world (2nd only to Finland). Finland is 53.77 per 100,000 (age standardized), the US isn’t much better at 45.58. Now compare those numbers to 0.46 per 100,000 for India18.
Does India’s high dietary usage of turmeric have anything to do with that? If so – as some theorize – then it’s being accomplished without any special patented or proprietary ingredients for increasing absorption.
Perhaps eating more turmeric in your diet isn’t a bad idea, either.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Pepper grinders by smial (Own work) [FAL or GFDL 1.2<], via Wikimedia Commons