What's the Difference Between Curcumin and Turmeric?

If you love to cook or consider yourself a total foodie (that’s us 🙋‍♀️), chances are you’ve heard of turmeric. It’s that yellow ground spice that you’ve definitely had if you enjoy Indian food or golden lattes! Sometimes called the “healthiest spice,” turmeric also has a variety of potential health benefits attributed to it. If you’ve ever gone to buy a turmeric supplement, though, you might’ve found yourself with a bottle of curcumin or “turmeric with curcumin,” making you wonder—what's the difference between curcumin and turmeric?

Important Note: Before you start taking any supplements, consult a medical professional to make sure it’s safe to mix with your current lifestyle and any medications you may be taking.

Refresh Me, What is Turmeric?

Before jumping into the difference between curcumin and turmeric, what is turmeric? You mean the spice jar I have in my cabinet? Yes! Turmeric comes from the underground root (or rhizome) of the Curcuma longa, a plant in the ginger family. It’s native to Southeast Asia and has been used as a spice and in traditional medicines for thousands of years.

With its long history starting in India, the use of turmeric as a spice and Eastern medicine practices spread over the centuries. Still used today, turmeric may help provide a variety of health benefits including:

  • Treating arthritis
  • Improving digestion
  • Helping with respiratory infections
  • Working as a natural anti-inflammatory for pain relief
  • Aiding antifungal and antibacterial efforts
  • Reducing the risk of heart disease
  • Managing muscle soreness from exercise or other physical activity

It’s not hard to see what makes turmeric so special! But what makes it so potentially helpful? This comes in its makeup. Turmeric is made up of a combination of plant compounds called curcuminoids (see where we’re heading here?). These compounds may offer antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial qualities that work together.

So What Is Curcumin?

If turmeric is made of curcuminoids, then what is curcumin? As you probably put together, curcumin is a plant compound found in turmeric and is its most active and potentially-beneficial element. It’s also what gives turmeric its signature golden color and distinct flavor!

Studies have shown that curcumin has plenty of potential health benefits itself. While some of the benefits overlap with turmeric as a whole, it’s been shown to have potential as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and even possibly anti-tumor substance.

There’s a slight shortcoming when looking at curcumin in turmeric, however. Even though it’s the most active of the curcuminoids that make up the spice, curcumin only makes up roughly 2% to 8% of turmeric by weight. Curcumin capsules have a concentrated amount that is meant to amplify their potential health benefits. making them a popular choice for people looking to maximize the benefits of both.

So… if they’re from the same plant...

What’s the Difference Between Curcumin and Turmeric?

Understanding the difference between curcumin and turmeric is easier than you may think. Try thinking of curcumin vs turmeric like vitamin C vs oranges. One is found inside the other—a part of a whole.

So is curcumin the same as turmeric? Yes and no. Comparing curcumin vs turmeric is really a measurement of how much you want of each. It’s also important to consider your own genetic makeup and how that may affect any potential benefits.

Perhaps the most notable difference between curcumin and turmeric is problems observed with the bioavailability of curcumin. Bioavailability refers to the amount of a substance that is absorbed and metabolized by the body. Since it’s already a smaller portion of the total makeup of turmeric, those with less bioavailability to absorb curcumin may need the concentrations found in curcumin supplements to see potential results.

Curcumin capsules with higher concentrations of the plant compound may increase bioavailability and help you metabolize more of it for possible health benefits.

Similar to adding CBD tinctures or other supplements to your daily ritual, each person may experience different results from using curcumin vs turmeric. It may take a little adjusting along the way to see what works best for you.

How Turmeric and Curcumin Work Together

Now that you’ve got a better grasp on the difference between curcumin and turmeric, let’s talk about how they work together, too. While there’s no way to tell for certain which potential health benefits each person may experience, curcumin vs turmeric doesn’t have to mean either/or.

Like we talked about, turmeric has a lengthy list of potential health benefits ranging from pain relief to managing arthritis. Part of what gives it these potential qualities is its combined makeup from its three primary curcuminoids: curcumin, demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin. Since curcumin is the most active and healthful of those three, increasing the potency of your dosage may help boost overall effects.

In short, turmeric has potential health benefits that curcumin may not provide on its own. That said, the possible benefits of curcumin may help amplify the effectiveness of turmeric. It’s a sort of symbiotic relationship whose ultimate outcome is meant to have you ready to take on each and every day!

We hope we’ve been able to demystify the difference between curcumin and turmeric for you. Remember that it’s like vitamin C to an orange, a part to a whole. Next time you’re considering curcumin vs turmeric, consider how they might work together for your benefit and see what dosage combination works best for you. Like with any health supplement, adding turmeric to your daily ritual or taking curcumin capsules regularly will yield the best results.

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