Guest article

Curcumin: The powerful botanical that could

© Doucefleur / Getty Images
© Doucefleur / Getty Images

Related tags Curcumin Turmeric

When asked to write this article, the Simple Minds song “Don’t You forget about me” immediately popped in my head. While it’s no longer the exciting new kid on the block, curcumin is the “friend” the industry needs.

Enough with the cliches. According to HerbalGram  2020 Herb Market Report​, turmeric (curcuma longa​) is the 4th​ best-selling supplement in US mainstream multi-outlet channels and rightfully so since it’s got thousands of years of science and use behind it.

It also has fairly high familiarity – the ITC Insights 2021 Consumer Supplement Survey found 83% of supplement consumers are familiar with the ingredient and 55% take it with 42% consuming this botanical in some form 4 or more times per week. It also had a 32% increase in usage over the past year, which ranked highest in the survey among the dozen ingredients surveyed.  

But, when a supplement or ingredient becomes too notable, it becomes at risk for commoditization and unscrupulous behaviors, including adulteration which can cause a loss of consumer trust.

To help establish standards for curcumin testing, this year the Global Curcumin Association worked closely with Beta Analytic and Eurofins to develop and publish a peer-reviewed paper​ on testing standards. In September, 'Analytical strategies to determine the labelling accuracy and economically-motivated adulteration of "natural" dietary supplements in the marketplace: turmeric case study'​ was published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Chemistry. ​The findings indicate that an orthogonal turmeric quality control approach is ideal—one that uses carbon-14 measurements (a means to distinguish natural from synthetic curcumin) and curcuminoid content determination by high-performance liquid chromatography with detection in the visible range (HPLC-Vis) together, this being essential for helping improve and verify the quality of products in this category. 

Curcumin is notably one of the few supplements where you many report they can ‘feel’ the benefits. While pain/inflammation continues to be the top reason supplement consumers take curcumin, in 2021 we saw a rise in those taking it for brain health/mental acuity, which is likely due to some of the stress faced by many during COVID.

Image courtesy of the Ingredient Transparency Center (ITC)

Research continues to validate the efficacy of curcumin-centric extractions for inflammation and increasingly mental health applications. There are even new papers that begin to describe the actions of curcumin and curcuminoids, in the very small amounts that arrive there, on the gut microbiota.

Beyond the bioavailability of curcumin and curcuminoids discussion, with the herb itself, we are increasingly seeing differentiation tactics which would alter the reliance on the pure Ayurvedic tradition, in a similar fashion that we are seeing with other traditional herbs from Ayurveda. This includes novel extractions, novel combinations and new communication strategies.

Although the growth of this herb has slowed in recent years, the totality of the evidence, its historical use and experiential impact suggest that it will remain a solid top botanical in the global market. As the Global curcumin Association, in 2022, we will continue to aggressively steward the category, attribute the science, educate the stakeholders and calling out the bad actors. We expect industry to continue to improve sourcing practices and focus more on quality control to protect the category.

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