The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 14 No. 1 • February 2011

“There are countless suns and countless earths all rotating around their suns in exactly the same way as the seven planets of our system. We see only the suns because they are the largest bodies and are luminous, but their planets remain invisible to us because they are smaller and non-luminous.”
— Giordano Bruno, 1584

“The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.”
— Cicero, 55 BC

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
— Albert Einstein

“It is difficult to imagine that a nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place.”
— District Court Judge Roger Vinson in his ruling declaring the individual mandate to purchase health insurance in Obamacare (and, hence, the entire Act) unconstitutional

Comparison of Efficacy of Turmeric and Curcumin
in Immunological Measures and Gene Regulation

We have long been interested in assessing the differences between ingesting healthful substances as parts of a whole food or an herb as compared to taking them as an individual ingredient.

A new paper1 examined the comparative efficacy of extract of turmeric rhizome (ETE, prepared as an ethanolic extract of raw turmeric) as compared to commercially obtained curcumin, the yellow component of turmeric that has been widely studied for beneficial effects (such as antioxidant, neuroprotection, memory enhancement, cancer preventive, and anti-inflammatory). There has been little published comparing the effects of turmeric and curcumin, so we were especially interested in the results. The two were compared for immunostimulatory, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties in a mouse model. In addition they were compared for gene expression of perforin (a pore forming protein important in T-cell mediated cytoxicity), IL-2, IL-6, TNF (a powerful inflammatory cytokine), and iNOS (the inducible form of nitric oxide synthase, which plays an important role in many inflammatory conditions).

Results included: Turmeric extract “caused a heightened expression of perforin, the effector molecule to carry out T-cell mediated immunity. It was almost double to that with curcumin which could not elicit the response beyond controls.” The better efficacy of turmeric extract for immunostimulation “was also observed when we measured the expression of concerned gemes, such as IL-2, IL-6 and perforin in assay ...” In fact, “[f]or the expression of IL-2, IL-6 and [as mentioned in quote above] perforin curcumin could not elicit response beyond controls.” “This seems notable to establish superiority of ETE in induction of certain immunologically important genes over curcumin.”

Both ETE and curcumin significantly downregulated the inflammatory cytokine TNF-alpha expression in mouse splenic T-cells.

The foot pads of mice were injected with an inflammatory agent, 2,4-dinitrofluorobenzene, to induce swelling and redness. Turmeric extract was found to inhibit generation of superoxide and hydrogen peroxide in cells from these mice significantly more effectively than curcumin, while the turmeric extract and curcumin inhibited hydroxyl radicals equivalently. “The percentage of inhibition in [superoxide] generation with ETE treatment was almost double to that of curcumin treated ones. The ETE also could inhibit [copper chloride]-ascorbate derived hydrogen peroxide generation in murine [mouse] lymphocytes by higher percentage over control; whereas the percentage of inhibition with curcumin treatment was even lower than the alcohol control.” “Thus, ETE is found to be effective antioxidant, at times better than curcumin.”

Photographs of mouse paws showed the results of the delayed hypersensitivity reaction induced by the 2,4-dinitrofluorobenzene. The paws of the animals receiving turmeric extract looked less swollen than those that received curcumin.

The results of this study provide some support for what the authors call “the general belief with Ayurvedic practioners” that a crude extract of turmeric is more effective than the purified compound curcumin in curing human ailments. Of course, the “general belief” of anyone is only anecdotal until supported by hard data.

The authors also note that “it is an age old common practice in India to have oral uptake of 5–10 g of turmeric rhizome with molasses in the morning in empty stomach.” Too bad they didn’t mention what it is that people get or expect to get from this supplementation.

A separate study2 published the same year as the one above reported findings on comparative antioxidant capacities of curcumin and extract of Curcuma longa (turmeric). Because Curcuma longa has a content of 31.9% curcumin and the purity of their curcumin standard was 70%, the authors “normalized the results of antioxidant capacity to the curcumin content.” “The results expressed in this way showed the increased antioxidant activity of curcumin in C. longa extract in comparison to that in the curcumin standard in DPPH- and ABTS-scavenging assays, peroxidation of DOPC liposomes and FRAP assay. These results emphasize the role of synergistic effects of other constituents of C. longa extract on the antioxidant activity of curcumin.

However, the authors note, the curcumin standard they used was only 70% pure, with other curcuminoids in the remaining 30%. Thus, they recalculated the results on the basis of total curcuminoid content and found similar antioxidant results for turmeric extract and the curcumin standard in the ABTS test. What this suggests to us is that pure curcumin (which, unlike the curcumin “standard” used in this study, wouldn’t include other curcuminoids found in turmeric) would be, in the tests as listed above, less effective than turmeric. However, the curcumin standard did have much higher antioxidant activity than the extract in a model of enzymatic lipid peroxidation (LOX catalyzed linoleic acid hydroperoxide formation).

Another paper,3 this one published in 2002, adds to the data by reporting that dietary supplementation with an antioxidant-rich hydroalcoholic extract of the curcuma rhizome (turmeric) in human subjects resulted in a decrease in total blood lipid peroxides as well a decrease in HDL and LDL-lipid peroxidation.

They report3 that these anti-atherogenic effects were accompanied by a turmeric antioxidant-induced normalization of the plasma levels of fibrinogen (a pro-clotting factor) and the apoB/apoA ratio, suggesting additional anti-atherogenic effects.

There wasn’t a direct comparison of the effects of curcumin and turmeric in this paper, however, but the authors’ review of the literature (some of the research was carried out by the authors and others at their lab) suggests that “the main antioxidant from Curcuma, i.e., curcumin or 1,7-bis-(-4-hydroxy- 3-methoxyphenyl)-1,6-heptadiene-2,5-dione, as well as a hydro-alcoholic extract of the dry Curcuma rhizome are powerful anti-inflammatory, immunomodulating, tumor-preventing and antiatherogenic drugs [sic] suitable for clinical testing in order to assess their probable therapeutic potential.” “The curcuma antioxidants might be especially useful as antiatherogenic agents in those processes linked to a marked increase in blood lipid peroxidation such as myocardial infarction, diabetes, and dislipemias in women after menopause.”

Hopefully, we will see more research comparing the effects of the complex mixture of constituents in turmeric to that of curcumin to help untangle these complex comparisons. The difficulty of attributing the source of benefits is one reason that researchers prefer to study a single entity rather than mixtures, yet mixtures are potentially sources of benefits beyond that of a single component. The FDA compounds the problem of getting information on mixtures by refusing to accept any data on beneficial results derived from mixtures in the determination of qualified health claims for dietary supplements and foods on the basis that it is unclear what is responsible for the benefits. What we are likely to see in further detailed comparisons of turmeric and curcumin, we think, is differences in efficacy that are dependent upon what biochemical processes are being examined, ie. sometimes turmeric may be more efficacious and other times curcumin may.

On the basis of the limited information currently available, we prefer to supplement with turmeric root powder to get the full spectrum of curcuminoids as compared to curcumin alone. For optimal effects, we suggest taking powdered turmeric with meals. We have a glass of wine with lunch and dinner (Durk) or just with dinner (Sandy), and the wine, acting as a delightful hydroalcoholic extracting agent, may further the beneficial effects of turmeric as well as providing benefits of its own (such as increasing HDL and decreasing insulin resistance).


  1. Chakravarty et al. Comparison of efficacy and turmeric and commercial curcumin in immunological functions and gene regulation. Int J Pharmacol 5(6):333-45 (2009).
  2. Rackova et al. Comparative study of two natural antioxidants, curcumin and Curcuma longa extract. J Food Nutr Res 48(3):148-52 (2009).
  3. Miquel et al. The curcuma antioxidants: pharmacological effects and prospects for future clinical use. A review. Arch Gerontol Geriatr 34:37-46 (2002).

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