Turmeric and Curcumin – are they the same thing?

You’ve probably heard lots of people talking about turmeric, and then other people talking about curcumin.  But what exactly is the difference? Are they the same thing?  Turmeric is a spice, commonly found in curry and used traditionally in many Indian dishes.  It’s a rhizome, and a member of the ginger family.  This spice is known for its bright yellow/orange color.  Turmeric contains curcuminoids, which are bioactive compounds, and curcumin is one of these curcuminoid compounds. While turmeric contains only 2 – 9% curcuminoids, 75% of these active curcuminoids are curcumin, which is why curcumin is the “star” of turmeric.

While both turmeric and curcumin are full of health benefits for the body, they also have low bioavailability, which means they aren’t easily absorbed and processed by the body.  When cooking with turmeric, it’s a good idea to add black pepper.  Studies have shown that black pepper increases the bioavailability of both turmeric and curcumin.  In fact, you’ll notice that many curcumin supplements include either black pepper or piperine, which is the active compound in black pepper.

So what exactly does curcumin do?  To begin with, it’s an antioxidant powerhouse!  Along with lessening existing inflammation and dampening future inflammatory pathways, it’s also well known for reducing the pain response, and some people are able to use it in place of NSAIDs such as Advil and Aleve.  It’s commonly used in the treatment of osteoarthritis, and many osteoarthritis sufferers report impressive results with consistent use.  Curcumin is also lauded for its many anti-cancer effects, and studies are currently underway to determine its efficacy in the treatment and prevention of breast, pancreatic, prostate, colorectal, and lung cancers.  But the many uses don’t stop there!  Studies have shown that curcumin can protect and repair the gastrointestinal lining, and help people heal from “leaky gut” syndrome.  In addition, more research is currently underway to determine how effective curcumin is in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, gallstones, and more.

The many benefits of curcumin supplementation are very exciting, and we here at Origins Functional Medicine love working with our patients to determine safe and natural alternatives to traditional medications.



Sarah is a Certified Nutrition Specialist (“CNS”), a national credential awarded by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (https://nutritionspecialists.org ) and a Licensed Dietician/Nutritionist in the state of Florida. She can be found at https://sarahgehawellness.com