Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a serious inflammatory condition requiring both medical and lifestyle interventions.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in the popular spice turmeric. It has many health benefits, with its most powerful being its anti-inflammatory properties. This article reviews if curcumin is a helpful supplement for IBD.
What is IBD?
IBD impacts over 1.6 million U.S. adults.
It is a collection of autoimmune diseases with chronic inflammation of the digestive system. The two main forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC). Each of these two conditions have several subtypes that also fall under the IBD classification:
- Gastroduodenal Crohn’s Disease
- Crohn’s Colitis
- Microscopic Colitis
- Diversion Colitis
- Behcet’s Disease
Despite the different variations of the disease, IBD has several defining characteristics. The leading symptom of IBD is diarrhea; however, abdominal pain, weight loss, anemia, fatigue, and rectal bleeding are also common symptoms of IBD (1).
Summary: IBD is an autoimmune condition with chronic inflammation in the digestive tract. While there are several variations of this conditions, the symptoms are similar.
What is Curcumin?
Curcumin is the active ingredient found in the Indian spice turmeric and ginger, giving these spices much of their therapeutic potential (2).
Summary: Curcumin is a component of turmeric and ginger; besides health benefits, it provides yellow pigment.
Health Benefits of Curcumin
Clinical studies using curcumin demonstrate its health benefits.
The primary health benefit of curcumin is its potent anti-inflammatory capacity. Since many diseases like diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and rheumatoid arthritis are characterized by inflammation, this makes curcumin a viable option for improving the symptoms of a variety of different conditions (4).
Summary: The most potent benefit of curcumin is its anti-inflammation property.
Research on Curcumin and IBD
Since IBD is characterized by inflammation in the intestines, one may assume curcumin provides therapeutic benefit for these conditions.
Research shows that the anti-inflammatory mechanism of curcumin works by suppressing the cells involved in the inflammatory pathway of the immune response. While further large-scale clinical trials are needed, the evidence supports curcumin as a safe and favorable means for treatment of IBD (9, 10).
Adult IBD Studies
A pilot study reviewed curcumin in subjects with ulcerative proctitis and CD and found that symptoms of both conditions improve following the administration of 550mg of curcumin 3 times per day (11).
Studies that combine curcumin with standard treatment medications have shown positive results. Using 2g per day (1g following breakfast and 1g following supper) of curcumin along with sulfasalazine or mesalamine for six months produces a reduction in relapse rate and maintenance of remission in patients with UC compared with placebo. However, six months after stopping supplementation with curcumin, symptoms returned (12).
Besides oral administration, curcumin in an enema formulation was effective in a pilot study on 45 UC patients. Participants experienced improvements in disease activity compared to placebo (13).
Pediatric IBD Studies
The benefits are not merely in adults. A pediatric population, between the ages of 11 and 18, tolerated 2g of curcumin twice a day without any issues with safety or side effects. The 9 participants had either CD or UC and had been on maintenance medication for at least two months. All tolerated the curcumin well, suggesting curcumin as a viable option for use in conjunction with other therapies (14).
There have been numerous studies on animals showing the benefits of curcumin for improving symptoms of IBD. Curcumin protects the intestine from microbial attack, which reduces inflammation. In an animal study, a combination of resveratrol, simvastatin, and curcumin increased the concentration of anti-inflammatory agents and reduced the number of inflammation causing bacteria in the gut (15, 16).
Successful pilot and small studies above show that large-scale, double-blind trials should be conducted to establish the role of curcumin in the treatment of IBD (17).
Summary: Research has found that curcumin can decrease symptoms of IBD, but improvements may disappear following cessation from supplementation. To confirm its therapeutic role, more clinical human trials with larger sample populations and appropriate controls are necessary.
How to Take Curcumin
The proposed benefits of curcumin have been found between 80-500mg daily.
It is important to note that curcumin has poor bioavailability—i.e., it absorbs poorly into the bloodstream, and then breaks down and eliminates rapidly. Therefore, there are several forms of curcumin to improve absorption.
Curcumin with black pepper
- Research has found that black pepper combined with curcumin increases bioavailability in both human and animal models (18).
- Curcumin bound to phosphatidylcholine, a fat molecule, protects curcumin and helps efficiently transport it across the intestinal lining (19).
Colloidal submicron-particle curcumin
- THERMACUMIN is a commercially available curcumin that uses technology to reduce the particle size of curcumin to improve its digestion (20).
- AQUACUMIN is a water-soluble version of curcumin, which makes it more bioavailable, that can be added to food, drink, and cosmetics.
If you are taking curcumin to treat digestive issues, then absorption into the blood is not necessarily essential. Because the anti-inflammatory effects only need to address the intestinal lining, consuming turmeric is a helpful strategy.
Turmeric supplements contain turmeric root ground into a fine powder and added to a capsule. This is the same type of turmeric you cook with. In addition to the active ingredient curcumin, turmeric also contains healthy antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Summary: Curcumin absorbs poorly; however, for addressing the digestive tract, bloodstream absorption may not play a big role.
Due to the powerful anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin, individuals suffering from IBD may benefit from supplementation.
Research suggests that it is safe and may require constant supplementation to maintain the benefits.
There is a lack of relevant studies regarding the use of curcumin as a standalone treatment for IBD, as well as dosage and formulation specifics.
Talk with your doctor or other health care practitioner prior to starting any new supplement to see if it’s right for you.