In a recent report released by the American Botanical Council on the sales of herbal supplements in the United States, curcumin has now ascended to the top rung. According to SPINS data, which lists the supplements under ‘turmeric,’ the name of the parent plant, turmeric supplement sales showed a 26.2% increase in sales in 2013, taking the top ranking in the natural channel (turmeric ranked third in 2011 and 2012).
Curcumin is hardly a new ingredient, said Greg Ris, vice president of sales for Indena USA, which markets a phytosome curcumin ingredient called Meriva. In the Indian subcontinent turmeric has been a mainstay of both cooking and Ayurvedic medical tradition for centuries.
“I believe curcumin has arrived. There are references to curcumin dating back 4,000 years and it has been part of the Indian diet for centuries. I think North American consumers now feel more comfortable taking supplements based on edible plants with a long history of safety. Curcumin is a great example of that,” Ris told NutraIngredients-USA.
“From a commercial perspective, with such increase in sales, it appears curcumin has arrived mainstream and certainly more and more people know about turmeric or curcumin," said Shaheen Majeed, marketing director for Sabinsa Corp. Sabinsa markets several curcumin ingredients including C3 complex, which includes three forms of curcuminoids and C3 Reduct, a mixture of tetrahydrocurcuminoids, metabolites of curcumin. "Without a doubt, demand is there and every marketing company is looking for a curcumin extract SKU in their line-up.”
One issue that hovers over curcumin supplement sales and science is the notoriously low bioavailability of the ingredient. In the Indian diet turmeric is ubiquitous, so even at low absorption rates consumers of curries and getting a fair amount, and are consuming the ingredient in the presence of dietary fats. Curries also usually contain black pepper and piperine, the active ingredient in that botanical, boosts bioavailability. Boosting bioavailability in supplements has been an issue for years, an issue on which suppliers take different tacks on.
Sabinsa has offered its C3 Complex ingredient for years and supplies BioPerine, a piperine extract, that is paired with it. More recently, it has launched the C3 Reduct, which as a metoblite has higher bioavailabilty, the company asserts.
“Sabinsa early on gave the world a proper method, which is both natural and the safest combination known, turmeric with black pepper, both patented ingredients, Curcumin C3 Complex and BioPerine, respectively, helps increase the delivery of the active components of curcuminoids in the body. What we’re finding is that other forms or combinations are actually delivering inactive metabolites, which the body simply can’t use, and that brings up questions of safety and longevity. Sabinsa also took the next evolutionary step and has brought to the market Curcumin C3 Reduct, which contains the active metabolites that curcumin is converted to in the body,” Majeed said.
Indena boosts the bioavailability of its ingredient using what it calls its ‘phytosome’ technology, pair the oil-soluble curcumin with a phospholipid carrier.
“Indena’s Meriva is produced using our proven phytosome technology that has been shown to increase the absorption of curcuminoids 29 fold versus a typical 95% curcumin extract,” Ris said.
Other companies are also offering curcumin ingredients with enhanced bioavailability, including OmniActive with its highly bioavailable curcumin called CurcuWIN that uses the company’s UltraSOL technology, EuroPharma’s BCM-95 is produced by a patented process that increases the bioavailability of plain curcumin up to 10 times, and Wacker recently launched a cyclodextrin-curcumin formulation which reportedly increases the bioavailability of curcumin by a factor of 45 compared to conventional curcumin extract.
Both Ris and Majeed said the picture of curcumin on the shelf is somewhat muddied by the wide variety of quality available. Some supplements are based on garden-variety standard extracts, which have been shown to have lower absorption. And some manufacturers have been known to cut doses below the efficacious level. Even so, the momentum for the ingredient continues to build with new indications being researched for the ingredient every year. Both Majeed and Ris said the key for maintaining that momentum will be continued research into the ingredients’ many potential effects.
Sabinsa’s Majeed said customers are now looking beyond joint pain relief.
“We feel curcumin has a long way to go. Our focus on Curcumin C3 Complex is longstanding and 76 peer reviewed published studies later has led to some major scientific breakthroughs in a multitude of research fields, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis, inflammation and much more. As society looks for benefits from more potent actives based on scientific evidence and research, ingredients with a solid background like our C3 Complex are well positioned to take off,” Majeed said.
“Not surprisingly there are curcumin suppliers offering more marketing and dubious science that legitimate clinical evidence to support their ingredient. Meriva is supported by 23 published trials, including 17 clinical studies and there are additional trials ongoing,” Ris said.
"Interest in the curcumin category has significantly increased based on the explosion of scientific and exploratory research in curcumin over recent years. The missing piece in facilitating a real market breakthrough has been the clinical piece and the ability to address market concerns on curcumin bioavailability. Bioavailability is critical in the effectiveness of nutraceuticals, and consumers are becoming more aware of the importance of nutrient absorption. According to SloanTrends, bioavailability is a long-term sustainable consumer trend," said Lynda Doyle, vice president of global marketing at OmniActive.