A while back, we received an interesting comment on our page reviewing turmeric supplement brands. Here’s what the person said:

“Why have you not included NovaSOL Curcumin in the comparison. Full Spectrum Curcumin by Solgar Vitamin is the only liquid gel delivered Curcumin on the market. NovaSOL boasts clinical studies of 185x (AUC) for the bioavailability by homogeneously delivering the active compounds to the proper point of maximum absorption in the body. Furthermore, studies show that NovaSOL Curcumin is retained in the body for 24-hours! Based on this unparalleled data and being the only liquid delivery format, it should have been included and been rated at the top of the list.”

The @domain for this person’s listed email address was for Molecular Health Technologies LLC, which is a New Jersey based bulk ingredient supplier for the nutrition industry. NovaSOL supplements are front and center in their product lineup, but rather than sell to the public, they are a B2B supplier – selling this proprietary compound to companies for use in their supplements.

As this gentleman suggested, should we have listed the Solgar full spectrum curcumin 185x supplement as the number one among our reviews?

We like Solgar and have nothing against them. But what he may not know is that we are familiar with the NovaSOL ingredient which they – and some other brands – use for their turmeric products. There’s actually a good reason why we haven’t yet included this ingredient in our ranking.

To understand why, you first have to hear the backstory…

What is NovaSOL curcumin?

Aquanova AG (of Germany) is a manufacturer of liquid food additives and cosmetic ingredients, which they market under their NovaSOL® brand name. One of their products is a curcumin technology, which was developed during a project that was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (1).

Based on the patent’s listed priority date, it was invented in 2012. The filing describes it as curcumin which is “preferably between 7 nm and 10 nm” in diameter, which is combined with at least one emulsifier that “in particular is polysorbate 80 or polysorbate 20 or a mixture.” They call this combo the biomimetic micelle matrix.

While Solgar is the most well known brand which contains it, there are a few others who use it, too.

NovaSOL vs. the competition

Doctor's Best curcumin bottles, Meriva and BioperineThe marketing claims the benefit of this formula is that it “outperforms any material, formula or product on the market” and in a chart directly below that statement, they compare it to others; Curcu-Gel BCM95, micronisate (micronized powder) and Meriva (2). That’s based on the number of capsules needed “to achieve a 10 gram curcumin bioequivalent.”

The curcumin micelles by Aquanova are claimed to be “completely stable at gastric pH” and therefore, they are delivered to the wall of the small intestine for “maximum absorption.” They say this is the key to the better bioavailability, since its taking place in the intestinal wall versus the stomach.

The 10 nanometer particle size mentioned in the patent is tiny. It’s worth noting that a 2009 patent for Theracurmin (owned by the Japanese company Theravalues) covers an average particle diameter of 1 µm (micrometer) or below (3).

1,000 nanometer = 1 micrometer

If NovaSOL is “preferably between 7 nm and 10 nm” as per their patent, it would mean that it’s much smaller than the maximum size of the Theracurmin curcumin particle, which is also derived from turmeric.

Now to be clear, when it comes to bioavailability, larger does not necessarily mean it’s worse or inferior.

If a particle is small enough and has the right shape for maximum absorption via the digestive tract, as well as the ability to cross through the blood brain barrier, then it shouldn’t matter how big it is (at least up to those thresholds).

Comparing proprietary formulations

The first claim in the patent by Theravalues covers the 1 µm particle size and just plain ol’ water. It’s only in the subsequent (and child) claims where they address additives to boost absorption.

For example, here’s claim 11 in that filing where they talk about using it with gum ghatti, which is a complex non-starch polysaccharide from the Indian gum tree, Anogeissus latifolia (4).

“A method for improving absorbability of a turmeric pigment into a body upon oral administration, comprising forming a formulation of the turmeric pigment that is a mixture of gum ghatti and a particulate turmeric pigment having an average particle diameter of 1 µm or below.”

So when you compare a competitor versus Theravalues technology, you need to know which version they’re comparing it to. Is it just the super tiny particle + water, as in claim #1 of their patent? Or is something else being used to boost absorption, as in claim #11?

turmeric powder and capsulesThat’s where marketing can get tricky to interpret, even for us.

The following complaints are not directed towards any specific manufacturer or supplement company. Rather, they’re about the industry at large for this fiercely competitive phytonutrient.

Many out there are vague when they do their comparisons of product A vs. B. vs. C. We aren’t always able to decipher as to which version of a proprietary curcumin formulation one is measuring against.

For example, if you’re pitting brand A against Theravalues technology, you could choose a patented version from them which might be less bioavailable (i.e. particle + water). Or how much curcumin being used might be a different dosage, since it could be comparing number of capsules instead of equal mg per serving.

Even after analyzing the fine print seen in some marketing material, this conundrum is not always clear to the consumer.

Studies for proprietary formulations often seem like they’re designed in a way to highlight one brand in the best light, rather than compare everyone on an apples to apples basis for all parameters. Every brand seems to have at least one Achilles’ heal, but it is not always obvious as to what that is when you view a study. The worst performing parameter(s) may be a secondary focus or not addressed.

That is what makes comparing brands so difficult. It’s also why it’s even more important to have multiple studies when it comes to anything turmeric related, since they’re among the most technology-driven supplements on the market today.

lab experiment using well plateTo be clear, all of them are only dietary supplements and therefore, they are not to be used for disease. That said, it’s still interesting to at least read studies about how a given curcumin might interact in a clinical disease model for arthritis, joint inflammation, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other health disorders.

For example with BCM95, they have published clinical studies looking at joint health, comparing safety and efficacy to a NSAID (5), cognitive function support in older Chinese men who had “progressive decline in memory and cognitive function” (6), and in vitro testing against breast cancer cell proliferation using a complex which contained BCM95 (7).

To reiterate, any relationship between a disease and suspected benefits remain unproven, yet it’s still interesting to see those studies. We are not aware of any NovaSOL studies which have clinically evaluated disease models.

NovaSOL curcumin study

If you search the NIH PubMed database for the word “novasol” you only get one result from 2014 (8):

“Photodynamic decontamination of foodstuff from Staphylococcus aureus based on novel formulations of curcumin.”

That has nothing to do with dietary supplements. It’s about using curcumin bound to polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP-C) for the prevention of food poisoning, to kill Staphylococcus aureus on things like chicken meat and peppers prior to consumption.

One unrelated result is not very helpful.

When we search for “aquanova curcumin” we get more, but it’s only one study from 2016 (9):

“Transepithelial Transport of Curcumin in Caco-2 Cells is significantly Enhanced by Micellar Solubilisation.”

This one is relevant. It’s an in vitro (lab test) looking at bioavailability.

“Accordingly a nearly 9.5 fold higher amount of curcumin was detected on the basolateral side at the end of the transport experiments after 180 min with Sol-CUR [NovaSOL] compared to CUR [regular curcumin]”

Sounds good, but not great, and it’s only a lab experiment. It’s not the 185x number mentioned in the comment we received.

So where did that 185x come from? What comes next in this study tells us:

“The determined 3.8-fold improvement in the permeability of curcumin is in agreement with an up to 185-fold increase in the AUC of curcumin observed in humans following the oral administration of the nanoscaled micellar formulation compared to native curcumin.”

So the “up to 185-fold” is not from this study, but a prior human study they’re referencing. Where’s that?

It’s on PubMed but without those keywords linked to it. Published in 2014, the title is (10):

“The oral bioavailability of curcumin from micronized powder and liquid micelles is significantly increased in healthy humans and differs between sexes.”

This was a crossover study involving 13 women and 10 men who each took 500 mg doses of various forms, including NovaSOL. Here were the results:

“Based on the area under the plasma concentration-time curve (AUC), the micronized curcumin was 14-, 5-, and 9-fold and micellar curcumin 277-, 114-, and 185-fold better bioavailable than native curcumin in women, men, and all subjects, respectively.”

If you’re a man, how much that gets absorbed is said to be 114 times better. That’s almost 59% lower than it is for woman, at least according to that study.

Not to be sexist, but in order to assume a worst-case scenario, let’s go with the value for men. How does 114x boost compare to competing turmeric supplements?

Well at least one brand of Theravalues technology, Natural Factors CurcuminRich, claims the following on their website:

“Theracurmin is an enhanced form of curcumin that increases its absorption over 300 times compared to regular curcumin. It achieves this superior absorption through a reduced particle size, colloidal dispersion process. Each capsule is equivalent to 8,100 mg of regular curcumin.”

We discuss some of their studies in our turmeric supplement review.

What CurcuminRich refer to as the “non-medicinal ingredients” in their capsules is:

Microcrystalline cellulose, vegetarian capsule (carbohydrate gum [cellulose], purified water), vegetable grade magnesium stearate (lubricant), silica.

Rather than a 300x increase, would you choose the 114x you get with NovaSOL curcumin?

Your first response would be no way, but there might actually be some valid reasons why NovaSOL offers added benefits even if its absorption rate is not the absolute best.

Their marketing claims that most curcumin leaves the body through the liver 2 hours after ingesting it, but the NovaSOL version “remains in the plasma for over 24 hours.”

chart of Novasol curcumin bioavailability after 24 hours

The round dots (lowest lines) are the average total plasma curcumin concentrations for 10 men following a single oral dose of 500 mg curcuminoids (which consisted of 410 mg curcumin, 80 mg demethoxycurcumin, 10 mg bis-demethoxycurcumin). The squares are for a micronisate dose. The triangles (best performing) are for NovaSOL micelle dose.

Impressive for sure, how does it compare to proprietary and patented formulations like Theracurmin, Longvida, BCM-95, Meriva, as well as the earliest enhancers like BioPerine (a now expired patent covering peperine extracted from black pepper, for use as an absorption booster). We want to see charts for those too, not just plain ol’ curcumin.

How about the side effects of the NovaSOL curcumin micelles? It’s really impossible to know if there are any based on this one study, but here’s what they listed…

Reported Side Effects

Curcumin Type Side Effect Men
(# out of 10 total)
Women
(# out of 13 total)
Regular Flatulence 1
Regular Stomach ache 1
Regular Yellowish stool 1
Micronized Yellowish diarrhea 1
Micronized Yellowish stool 1 1
Micronized Increase in stool volume 1
Micelles Mild nausea 3 7
Micelles Vomiting 1
Micelles Mild fatigue 1
Micelles Mild headache 1
Micelles Mild stomach ache 1
Micelles Incidental regurgitation 1

The one that catches our eye is the nausea, along with the related symptoms. This was a single-blinded study and the participants did not know which form they were getting each time. The side effect of nausea did not occur when those same men and women used the other two forms, but when they used the micelles, 3 men and 7 women allegedly experienced it.

Now it may just be a coincidence, anomaly, or fluke. The pool of participants was small. Still, being that 43% (10 out of 23 people) reported this adverse reaction – and only with that form – it does seem like further investigation on this is needed.

Verdict?

The reason we don’t have it in our “best list” yet is because the manufacturer and academia still haven’t published enough studies on it. We are approaching 5 years since its invention and we’re only finding 2 relevant studies on PubMed:

  • One is a human study, with a small number of subjects and huge variances between genders (the reason for differences are theorized, but not proven).
  • The other is only a laboratory model for predicting intestinal absorption.

athlete holding supplementsIt’s not that this research is bad, it’s actually good stuff! The problem is that it’s just not enough for us to draw a conclusion. We are aware there is other information in support of it, but we would like to see more studies which qualify for inclusion in PubMed (e.g. accepted for publication in a peer reviewed journal).

Although we would not expect the side effects of Solgar full spectrum curcumin or another NovaSOL containing brand to be different than the regular form, based on what was reported in that human study, we feel that it’s important to see more data on the potential for side effects.

Especially since it might stay in the bloodstream longer and therefore, may not be analogous to the side effects typically experienced with other forms of curcumin.

As far as bioavailability is concerned, even if it is “only” 100x better than plain curcumin, that still may be preferable over our current favorite, CurcuminRich, if the micelles stay in your blood substantially longer. Especially since Natural Factors CurcuminRich is only sold in relatively low dose capsules (you need to take multiple capsules for a comparable milligram dosage).

Though as of now, we’re not seeing a study – let alone multiple studies – which pit it head to head against the proprietary formulation used in CurcuminRich AND for all the important parameters (not just selecting the ones which NovaSOL might excel in).

In short, it is possible that NovaSOL might be better than other curcumin supplements, including our current preferred choice. However, we need to see more peer reviewed studies to draw a conclusion.

Who sells it?

solgar full spectrum curcumin 185x vs. CurcuminRich TheracurminWe hear finding NovaSOL curcumin in the UK is easier, as Solgar seems to be a more popular brand across the pond. Finding where to buy Solgar full spectrum, or another US brand which contains these micelles, proved to be a challenge. We checked three stores in west LA:

  • Lindberg Nutrition, Manhattan Beach
  • Erewhon, Venice
  • Whole Foods, El Segundo

Each of those stores carries at least a decent selection of vitamins, minerals, and other supplements (Lindberg is excellent, Erewhon and Whole Foods are fairly good).

At these three stores, you could find Theracurmin, BCM 95, Meriva, and various primitive turmeric formulas, but only Whole Foods sold the patented Aquanova curcumin. Expensive price, but then again, that’s typical there.

As far as drugstores like CVS and Walgreens, or Walmart, those are all terrible places for finding supplements.

Online we do see it for sale, both in the US and the UK. The brands sometimes list it as turmeric curcumin with NovaSOL.

Among the brands we saw, we would recommend the Solgar liquid extract softgels on Amazon. From the box it’s not obvious that it contains NovaSOL, aside from the statement that says “185x greater bioavailability.”

Delta Nutrition and Island’s Miracle joint relief supplement also contain it, but we don’t have any reviews to share of using those brands.
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.