Special Edition: Botanicals

Any moment now… Is curcumin momentum building towards a tipping point?


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Curcumin momentum builds towards a tipping point

Related tags Turmeric

It has been described as ‘one of the biggest-growing products in the botanical market right now’ and ‘the next omega-3’, so is the momentum building towards a tipping point for curcumin?  

Curcumin, the natural pigment that gives the spice turmeric its yellow color, has increasingly come under the scientific spotlight in recent years, with studies investigating its potential health benefits.

Dr Oz talked about the potential anti-cancer benefits of the ingredient in 2011, a segment “that did a lot to get curcumin on consumer’s radar”​, according to Anurag Pande, PhD, VP Scientific Affairs for Sabinsa.

But the Dr Oz effect has not been a flash in the pan: “It won’t be one product [or a TV segment] that makes the market explode,” ​said Dr Pande, “it will be that the momentum finally reaches a tipping point. Any moment now…”

Market sizing

Recent data from the Nutrition Business Journal​ puts turmeric in the top 10 best-selling supplements in the US, said Lynda Doyle, VP of Global Marketing with OmniActive, and sales of curcumin- and turmeric-based supplements are expected to grow 21.5% from 2013-2016 to $235 million.  

Christian Artaria, Marketing Director for Indena S.p.A., told us that the total US dietary supplement market of curcumin today is estimated at several hundred tons

“The market for curcumin has increased dramatically in the last several years, and it is probably one of the biggest-growing products in the botanical market right now. Market analysis of different research firms from the end-up side is confirming this incredible growth.”

Europe is also seeing double digit growth, added Artaria, with Italy in particular doing well, but also France, UK, Germany and Belgium are also growing. 

Japan is driving the Asian market, with other countries of note including Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia.


With the science building for the ingredient, and consumer awareness and demand growing, much attention has focused on delivering the benefits of curcumin for supplement and functional foods.

Curcumin exists naturally with two analogs demethoxycurcumin and bis demethoxy curcumin, explained Dr Pande, and together they are known as Curcuminoids. “Demethoxy curcumin (DMC) and bisdemethoxycurcumin (BDMC) also play important roles in contributing to efficacy and stability of the curcumin,” ​he added.

"Doctor’s Best with their Best Curcumin product and Jarrow Formulas with their Curcumin 95 product are doing some excellent work educating their customers about curcumin in general"

Indena’s Artaria said that turmeric has a rich phytochemistry, and also contains many other types of phytochemicals, some of which are potentially beneficial.  Others are potentially toxic, such as oxalic acid, while others like turmeric oil may interfere with the activity of curcumin in vivo​, he said. The clinical documentation on this ingredient relates to the combination of the three curcuminoids, he added.  

 “There is little doubt that absorption of curcumin from pharmaceutical formulations is very low, while the fatty food matrix in which turmeric is traditionally consumed could substantially increase it,”​ said Artaria. “Curcumin has a strong tendency to self-aggregate, as shown by its poor solubility in water and many organic solvents, as well as its high melting point.”

Sabinsa’s Dr Pande said that, in order to understand curcumin’s bioavailability, one has to look into pharmacokinetics and its metabolism in the body. “Curcumin is known to metabolize into tetrahydrocurcumin after going through reductase enzyme system in the body,”​ he explained. “The studies have shown that tetrahydrocurcuminoids not only have higher biological activity than curcumin in most cases but also has better stability at physiological pH, thus presenting us with an option of increasing the effectiveness of the curcuminoids by increasing the content of tetrahydrocurcuminoids in the system rather than curcuminoids themselves. Preliminary animal studies have shown that tetrahydrocurcuminoids have higher bioavailability in the gut.”

Sabinsa’s solution was to launch its C3 Reduct ingredient, standardized to 95% tetrahydrocurcuminoids. The company’s original Curcumin C3 Complex is a combination of curcuminoids with its bioavailability-enhancer BioPerine, derived from black pepper.

Indena uses dietary phospolipids to prevent the self-aggregation problem and substantially increase the absorption, said Artaria. The company’s Meriva branded ingredient takes advantage of a technology called Phytosome, which, he says, “has proven its soundness with many botanicals for over 30 years”​.

EuroPharma also offers a bioavailable curcumin ingredient. EuroPharma’s BCM-95 is produced by a patented process that increases the bioavailability of plain curcumin up to 10 times, the company has said. This is achieved by micronizing curcumin powder and then blending it with essential oils from turmeric, it added.

Wacker recently launched a cyclodextrin-curcumin formulation at the Fi Asia show, quoting data from a clinical trial that found the formulation increases the bioavailability of curcumin by a factor of 45 compared to conventional curcumin extract.


OmniActive’s Lynda Doyle noted that different strategies have been pursued by various manufacturers to improve the bioavailability of curcumin ingredients. “These formulations have been shown to increase bioavailability vs unformulated curcumin, however the strength of the studies varies based on a number of factors, including open label vs parallel or crossover designs, fasting vs fed state, normal vs diseased populations, number of measurements taken and outcome measures, curcumin vs conjugated or reduced metabolites vs total curcuminoids,”​ she told us.  

“In addition, most studies tested a single bioavailable curcumin ingredient against standard curcumin, so it is difficult to make any direct comparison between the bioavailable ingredients, only between the bioavailable ingredient and standard curcumin.” 

OmniActive sister company, Kancor, commercialized curcumin in the 1970’s, and OmniActive will launch a new highly bioavailable curcumin, CurcuWIN, during Supply Side West, November 13-15, which uses the company’s UltraSOL technology.

“OmniActive’s UltraSOL technology is a molecular dispersion process that enhances the solubility and bioavailability of lipophilic compounds and poorly absorbed nutrients,” ​explained Doyle.

It is important to stress Doyle’s point that no direct and independent comparisons between the various bioavailable ingredients has ever been published.

Sabinsa’s Dr Pande said that some ‘high bioavailable complexes’ may promote absorption of metabolites with very poor activity such as glucuronates or sulphates of the curcuminoids, yet such metabolites have not been found to be useful or particularly beneficial. He also recommended manufacturers assess the safety data: “Increasing the bioavailability of any supplement/ drug without fully understanding its implications in long term use is not advisable.”

Health benefits

“One of the main reasons for the increasing popularity of curcumin has been growing awareness of the health benefits of curcumin,”​ said Dr Pande. Indeed, studies have linked the yellow pigment to potential protection against various cancers, Alzheimer’s, protection against heart failure, diabetes, and arthritis.

Communicating such benefits will land a company in regulatory hot water, however. Indena’s Artaria said that his company focuses its communication around Meriva’s improved bioavailability.

“The results of our pharmacokinetic studies give credit to the enormous pre-clinical literature on curcumin (almost 3,000 publications) that suggests a broad potential for this compound,” ​he said.

“In some markets we registered, or supported our customers in registering their products that contain Meriva, in order to be to bear an official claim. This is, for example, the case in Canada, where an official claim (“helps relieve joint inflammation and associated symptoms such as joint pain when used in conjunction with conventional treatment. Provides Antioxidants for maintenance of good health”) has been authorized by the Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD), a branch of Health Products and Food of Health Canada.”

Dr Pande said that, while the literature does show a lot of potential for many conditions, companies must always ensure that dietary supplements do not claim to prevent, mitigate cure, or treat any disease. “We write about the science without stepping over the line,”​ he said.

“There are a number of key companies, such as Doctor’s Best with their Best Curcumin product and Jarrow Formulas with their Curcumin 95 product are doing some excellent work in the marketplace, not only getting C3 Complex out there but also educating their customers about curcumin in general,”​ added Dr Pande.  

So what’s next? Sabinsa has previously stated that it expects curcumin to be the ‘next omega-3’, but is that realistic?

“Yes,”​ said Dr Pande, “we are very much on path of making the C3 Reduct and C3 complex the next omega-3 of the dietary supplement world and with increasing evidence and ongoing clinical studies we are very confident that we can meet the targets which we set forth in the beginning of the year.”

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