Last week we posted an article on turmeric and the healing properties that are associated with its active ingredient, curcumin. We focussed particularly on the potential role of dietary turmeric in cancer prevention (if you haven’t read it yet, click here to be taken to the article). We mentioned briefly at the end of the article that using black pepper with turmeric can enhance the bioavailability of the curcumin, and we wanted to delve into that more here.
We know that turmeric has been used extensively in Indian and other South Asian cuisines, and has often formed part of a “curry powder blend” alongside other spices and black pepper. These spices are then typically combined with onions and garlic, some sort of protein and vegetables, and a fat such as coconut milk.
Well, it seems that this traditional style of cooking and ingredient combining is actually beneficial for our health and can help with the absorption of the curcumin compound present in turmeric.
There is a particular plant in South Asia that was traditionally used to treat asthma, whereby the leaves of the plant were steeped with black peppercorns before using them to make tea. In 1928 scientists investigated this ritual and discovered that adding black pepper actually increased the anti-asthmatic properties of the plants leaves. It was important to note that black pepper didn’t work alone, more so it was the combination of the pepper with the leaves.
Approximately 5% of black pepper consists of a compound called piperine, which is actually the cause of the strong pungent flavour of pepper. Usually, the liver banishes foreign substances by making them water soluble so that they can be excreted easily. The piperine present in black pepper actually inhibits that process, instead contributing to the increase in absorption of the substance.
An investigation by scientists in 1998 revealed that taking ¼ tsp of black pepper with curcumin boosted the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000%, and even just a tiny pinch of pepper significantly boosted levels.
Further findings in the area of curcumin bioavailability have showed that fat can also help to boost absorption. Consuming curcumin as a whole food (fresh as turmeric root or dried and powdered) naturally enhances the bioavailability of curcumin due to the natural oils found in the turmeric. Fat from the turmeric oil helps the curcumin to be directly absorbed into the blood stream and into the lymphatic system.
However, when curcumin is extracted from turmeric (for example to make supplement capsules), it loses its oils and bioavailability. For this reason, a healthy fat (e.g. some whole nuts or seeds) alongside a curcumin supplement may help to improve the absorption rate.
If you like to consume your curcumin fresh in the form of turmeric root, then rejoice because turmeric root has all the oils necessary for absorption. Simply combine the turmeric with some black pepper (like in this wellness shot recipe below) and you will truly be harnessing the potential of this amazing golden spice pigment.
In the Wholesomeness kitchen we love to maximise nutrition, that’s why we often add turmeric and a tiny pinch of black pepper to our vegan protein blends.
Responsible health advice: There is no one size fits all approach to nutrition or the healing properties of food. If you are unwell please seek professional advice.
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Shoba, D. Joy, T. Joseph, M. Majeed, R. Rajendran, P. S. Srinivas. Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta Med. 1998 64(4):353 - 356.
Anand, A. B. Kunnumakkara, R. A. Newman, B. B. Aggarwal. Bioavailability of curcumin: Problems and promises. Mol. Pharm. 2007 4(6):807 - 818.