Curcumin from Turmeric root in a clay bowl

How to Find High Quality Curcumin

Curcumin is an extremely popular supplement these days. But what is curcumin, really? And how do you tell the good stuff from the bargain basement? Let's dig right in and find out.

What is turmeric?

Powdered Curcumin in capsules

Turmeric is a plant. And a root. And a spice, that's made from the powdered root of the plant of the same name. Confusing? Just a little. Turmeric the plant (Curcuma longa) as well as the root—and because of that, the spice—are all from India. So are the ancient Ayurvedic traditions that made turmeric famous for supporting skin, joints, and digestive health.

You might be wondering: is turmeric really good for you? The answer is yes—because of curcumin (and other curcuminoids). Modern studies indicate that this nutrient contained within the ancient turmeric spice is good for brain and immune health—but it's most famous for its ability to help inhibit inflammation to promote joint health.

Curcumin vs turmeric

There's a lot to be said for ancient traditions, but modern science has a way of making things better. That's the case with curcumin: we now know that curcumin is one of a few curcuminoid compounds that can be found in turmeric spice…but at much lower quantities than you'd get in a curcumin supplement.

That's because curcumin in capsule form is concentrated (or at least it should be). Otherwise you might as well just pop the capsule open and use it to flavor your noodles! And that's really the big difference here: turmeric is for making your food tasty, but curcumin is for maintaining your health.

High quality curcumin

A field of tumeric plants

So what should you look for in a curcumin supplement? Well, the first thing is to keep in mind the difference between the two: curcumin is one component of turmeric… so don't choose a supplement by how much turmeric it has (you know, by weight or volume). The important statistic is how much curcumin is actually in the supplement per dose… as well as how easy it is for your body to absorb it.

Harvesting and manufacturing are important parts of the process to consider as well. You'll want to find a curcumin that is sourced ethically and sustainably—otherwise, that's bad karma.

The next thing is (if possible) to choose curcumin that's grown on responsible farming collectives that have an eye on protecting the local environment as well as supporting the well-being of the turmeric farmers themselves.

That means finding farms that utilize low-impact, low-waste ways of watering, fertilizing and even mounting effective pest control for their plants. Not into research? Not to worry: we've done the work for you: Curcumin Elite™ comes from such a place.

Oh, and one more thing: getting curcumin out of turmeric root requires an extraction process. You could take a curcumin supplement that's had its turmeric processed chemically—but that raises many of the same concerns as would pesticide use: is it safe? Is it good for the environment? There are water-based extraction methods… so choose a curcumin supplement that makes good use of those techniques (like Curcumin Elite™).

Supplement strength: why choose good curcumin?

Nutritional supplement label up close

Curcumin isn't easy for your body to make use of, which means absorption and quality go hand-in-hand. The culprit is conjugation, where regular curcumin binds to other compounds when you eat it, making it harder for your bloodstream to absorb the curcumin and distribute it throughout your body.

So what can you do about it? One thing people used to do was add piperine, an extract of black pepper seeds. Piperine helps increase absorption of curcumin—but now there's an even better way.

Fenugreek seeds have soluble fibers called galactomannans. Why does this matter? Researchers have discovered that when you combine curcumin with galactomannans, it keeps curcuminoids from conjugating… by a lot: there's over 45 times more bioavailability of "free" (that's unconjugated) curcuminoids in a curcumin-fenugreek combo formula than in a regular old curcumin supplement.

Is all curcumin non-GMO?

There's nothing wrong with genetically modified organisms: just look up what a real, un-selectively engineered banana looks like. Word of warning, you are going to be disappointed.

But if non-GMO ingredients are important to you, most reputable supplement manufacturers print that info right on the label. They can be third party certified or self-certified. In order for that to work, of course, you're going to need to trust a company's ingredient transparency—or how easy it is to tell whether or not a formula contains what it says it does.

A supplement manufacturer with a good reputation will make a Certificate of Analysis available upon request. This COA is a scientific breakdown of exactly what's in the formula…so you can see that no one's hiding anything.

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So what’s the best curcumin out there?

Quality curcumin supplement in capsules on a spoon

Well, that will depend on what your most important quality parameters are. There are formulas that stand out from the pack, however: Curcumin Elite™ Turmeric Extract and Advanced Curcumin Elite™, Ginger & Turmerones both use a fenugreek-curcumin combo. This results in a powerful 45.5 times better bioavailability of free (that's unconjugated) curcuminoids…and a whopping 270 times more total curcuminoids…than a standard curcumin turmeric supplement. (Yeah, that's potent!)

Curcumin Elite™ is an environmentally friendly, future-forward curcumin supplement. Not only are the farming collectives in India where it comes from rotating crops to protect the soil and livelihoods of the farmers who own them, they also use state-of-the-art satellite tracking and uplinks to monitor soil quality, pest control and water use.

Why do that? Because it lets scientists give the farmers feedback in real time as to how to best manage their crops and increase their yields. And that's ultimately good for your health!

But what about the extraction process? Great question, actually. The curcumin used in Curcumin Elite™ is removed from harvested turmeric root that's been pressure-boiled before it was dried. That saves water over the traditional "boiling" methods.

After its all dried out, the curcumin in Curcumin Elite™ is extracted using a water-based extraction method, so there's none of those worrisome solvents in your supplement capsule or softgel.

So now you know: for the best results, keep your spice rack and your supplement cabinet separate; choose turmeric for your food, and curcumin for your heart, mind, joints and health!

About the Author: John Gawley graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in English before beginning his career as a technical writer, copy writer and content manager. John has extensive experience in the health and wellness field, and he is the Senior Copywriter at Life Extension.