Curcumin is a highly effective antioxidant that is not readily absorbed by the human body. That’s why Dr. Wolz, a German manufacturer of food supplements, is relying on CAVACURMIN® from WACKER – a cyclodextrin-encapsulated curcumin extract with increased bioavailability.
Many home cooks know curcumin from Indian cuisine, where, in curry powders and pastes, it is responsible for the dishes’ rich yellow color. Curcumin and its derivatives, which all belong to the curcuminoids, are the biologically active constituents of the spice plant Curcuma longa, or turmeric.
The substance is not just a spice and colorant – it is also a well-known active, used in the Ayurvedic diet and traditional Asian medicine. Its bioactivity arises from interaction with numerous cellular processes and from the scavenging of free radicals. “Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant,” explains Rachela Mohr, business development manager at WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS. “It has been proven to support the immune system and also has an anti-inflammatory effect.”
At Dr. Wolz, a medium-sized manufacturer of food supplements from Geisenheim am Rhein (Germany), the many therapeutic and preventive opportunities offered by curcumin were well-known – but so was the fact that curcumin is not readily absorbed by the human bloodstream.
“It had previously not been possible to fully exploit the therapeutic benefits of curcumin, because the fat-soluble substance only has very limited bioavailability,” said Dr. Georg Wolz, owner and managing director of the company that bears his name. He explained that reasons included poor water solubility, limited absorption, fast metabolism and rapid excretion. “90% of natural turmeric, or curcumin, that is taken orally is excreted again,” stated Dr. Wolz regretfully.
“90% of natural turmeric, or curcumin, that is taken orally is excreted again.”Dr. Georg Wolz
Cyclodextrins Increase Bioavailability
As a manufacturer of functional food supplements, Dr. Wolz therefore rose to the challenge and set itself the aim of formulating its curcumin product so as to ensure optimum bioavailability for consumers despite the hydrophobic nature of the active ingredient.
“One method of increasing the bioavailability of hydrophobic substances, such as curcumin, is complexation with our cyclodextrins,” explains Dana Elgeti, marketing manager for nutrition at WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS. WACKER bioengineers these ring-shaped sugar molecules via enzymatic degradation from the starch-containing raw material corn.
The characteristic feature of cyclodextrins is their three-dimensional structure: it forms a ring with a hydrophobic interior cavity that is capable of receiving a lipophilic “guest” molecule – such as curcumin – provided its size and shape are compatible. The cyclodextrin’s hydrophilic shell can increase the bioavailability of curcumin, i.e. the amount that can be taken up by the human body.
Studies Verify Benefits
Several scientific studies have confirmed the positive effect attained by complexation with cyclodextrins. In 2013, a human clinical trial compared the relative absorption of the curcumin-gamma-cyclodextrin complex – marketed by WACKER as CAVACURMIN® – with a conventional curcumin extract (95%) and two further leading curcumin products said to have superior bioavailability (a curcumin-phytosome formulation and a formulation of curcumin oil from the Curcuma longa rhizome).
Over the course of the clinical study, 12 healthy participants, aged between 20 and 35, each took one of the three different bioavailable curcumin formulations or the conventional curcumin extract (95%) on an empty stomach. All test samples were administered as capsules with water only. After four and eight hours, respectively, the participants received a standardized, low-fat meal, so that any other influence on the absorption of the curcuminoids – for example due to fat – could be ruled out. Following ingestion of the products, blood samples were taken from the participants at regular intervals over a 12-hour period and analyzed. Earlier studies had suggested that absorption and metabolization would be largely completed within this time frame.
Considerably Improved Uptake
The results of the study, which was published in the European Journal of Nutrition in February 2017, showed that absorption of the curcuminoids was around 40 times more efficient with the cyclodextrin formulation than with the conventional curcumin extract (95%). Bioavailability was also greatly enhanced compared to the other two curcumin products. “The considerably improved uptake of CAVACURMIN® revealed itself in the curcuminoid content of the participants’ blood, which was around 5 times higher than for the best of the two curcumin reference products,” emphasizes Elgeti. As a free-flowing powder, the gamma-cyclodextrin-based raw material is perfect for use in tablets, capsules, granules and energy bars. Since the powder readily disperses in water, it is also ideal for liquid food supplements.
“Based on available studies to date, WACKER’s CAVACURMIN® is the best solution for increasing the bioavailability of curcumin,” summed up Dr. Wolz. His long-established business has been marketing the curcumin-cyclodextrin complex as Curcumin Extrakt 45 since 2014 – and straight away created one of its most successful products. Bioengineered from renewable, plant-based raw materials, cyclodextrins also fully address the current trend of avoiding animal-derived products. Furthermore, gamma-cyclodextrin is hypoallergenic, kosher and halal in accordance with 2003/89/EC and 2006/142/EC, and approved for use in food by the authorities in the USA, Canada, Europe and most Asian and Latin American countries. “This makes cyclodextrin formulations an ideal alternative – free of allergens and cholesterol, based on plant-derived renewable raw materials – for functional food applications to enhance the bioavailability of substances, such as curcumin, that are otherwise absorbed poorly,” said Mohr.
The German Reformhaus® chain of health-food stores has also recognized that the combination of cyclodextrins and curcumin is a highly innovative approach to dietary supplements. It honored Dr. Wolz’s Curcumin Extrakt 45 as the “2015 Health-Store Product of the Year.”
“The considerably improved uptake of CAVACURMIN® revealed itself in the curcuminoid content of the participants’ blood, which was around 5 times higher than for the best of the two curcumin reference products.”Dana Elgeti Marketing Manager at WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS
MECHANISM FOR ABSORPTION OF CURCUMIN-GAMMADEXTRIN COMPLEX
Based on current knowledge, absorption of complexed curcumin involves the following individual steps:
- After ingestion of the food supplement – for example in the form of a capsule as is the case with the Dr. Wolz product – the curcumin-cyclodextrin complex is transported unchanged through the stomach to the upper intestinal tract.
- This is where a chemical equilibrium reaction releases the curcumin molecules, so that they can be absorbed by the body through the epithelial cell membrane.
- During further digestion, gamma-cyclodextrin is degraded enzymatically into ever-smaller fragments down to glucose, which can ultimately be absorbed into the blood stream.
- As a result, a considerably larger amount of curcumin is absorbed directly into the blood compared to conventional curcumin extract and other curcumin products.
Wide Range of Effects
Dr. Georg Wolz is a general practitioner and specialist in nutritional medicine. He founded the food-supplement manufacturing company that bears his name: Dr. Wolz. Here, he talks about the health-promoting effects of curcumin – and the challenges of enhancing its bioavailability.
“Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects play a key role, which helps curcumin keep silent inflammations in check.”Dr. Georg Wolz Managing Director
Curcumin has been known for its health benefits for centuries. When was it “rediscovered” by manufacturers of nutritional supplements?
Dr. Georg Wolz: In the late 1990s, there was a real “vitamin boom” – the additional intake of vitamins, sometimes at very high dosages, was promoted. However, the hopes placed in vitamins did not come to fruition. Today, it is widely known that what makes fruit, vegetables and herbs so healthy are the secondary metabolites – whether lycopene from tomatoes, anthocyanins from red berries, catechins from green tea, resveratrol from grapes, glucoraphanin from broccoli, or curcumin from the turmeric root.
What health-promoting effects does curcumin offer?
Numerous studies – over 3,000 since 2010 alone – have shown that curcumin is a highly pleiotropic molecule, i.e. it has a variety of different effects. It is attributed with properties that are cholagogic (i.e. promote the flow of bile), antioxidant, antiseptic, pain-relieving, antithrombotic, antiproliferative, cytotoxic, antitumor, immunomodulating, antiviral and especially anti-inflammatory. Its main application fields thus include all types of inflammation, such as arthritis.
Manufacturers of dietary supplements are faced with the challenge of increasing the poor bioavailability of curcumin time and again. What convinced Dr. Wolz to opt for CAVACURMIN® from WACKER rather than alternative technologies?
To improve its bioavailability, curcumin had previously mainly been combined with the alkaloid piperine. While this raises the blood concentration, the effect only lasts for an hour and it then quickly returns to the original value. Moreover, piperine is a so-called “bio-enhancer” that, through inhibition or stimulation, can also influence the effect of medication. It also irritates the stomach lining. Increasing the bioavailability of curcumin with the aid of so-called “polysorbates” is likewise viewed critically by many, because it caused nausea and other side effects in more than half of study participants. Against this backdrop and based on available studies to date, WACKER’s CAVACURMIN® is the best solution for increasing bioavailability.
Should it be taken long term as a preventive measure or for a limited time due to acute illness?
Both. Anyone who shows one of the indications listed above (e.g. an inflammatory illness) should consider taking curcumin as a supplement. However, it also offers many positive effects in terms of prevention. For instance, there are many studies that confirm neuroprotective effects. So, taking curcumin regularly may help reduce the risk of dementia, for example. Due to curcumin’s effect on all stages of carcinogenesis, this natural product can contribute to cancer prevention, too. Not least thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, curcumin helps keep malicious silent inflammations in check. These are hidden inflammatory processes in the body that we only notice when they manifest themselves as an illness.
What must be kept in mind when taking curcumin?
Curcumin is very easy to digest. Only certain sensitive people may experience slight nausea or diarrhea. No serious side effects could be detected even after a one-time administration of high doses. However, extremely high doses should not be taken over prolonged periods to avoid liver damage. Nor should curcumin be used by pregnant women or by people suffering from biliary obstruction or gallstones. Due to the effect on thrombocytes, it should only be taken together with blood thinners (such as acetylsalicylic acid) after consultation with a doctor. On the other hand, curcumin has been shown to generate positive synergy effects with other plant secondary metabolites such as catechins (known, for example, from green tea), quercetin, genistein and resveratrol (known, for instance, from red wine).