The Inflammation Fighter: Turmeric's Growth in the Vitamin and Supplement Industry

by Cassandra R. February 16, 2016

Curcumin is grounded up from the turmeric root, which is used in an assortment of consumable products, as a food additive for meals and a nutritional extract for supplements.Turmeric curcumin supplements are slowly entering into mainstream health knowledge. Though turmeric may be best known as a spice in curry, it's fast gaining traction in natural health markets due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric curcumin supplements was one of the top 10 best selling supplements in the U.S. at $108 million in 2012, according to statistics by the Nutrition Business Journal. This market is only expected to grow, with the projected rate is estimated to reach $235 million between 2013 and 2016. Consumer education and supplement manufacturers' understanding of the ingredient are two of several key factors contributing to turmeric curcumin's rising popularity.

Understanding Turmeric Curcumin

Turmeric has a rich history—originating in India—that spans thousands of years. Its roots lie in traditional herbal and ayurdevic applications where grounded turmeric is used for supporting a number of health issues including arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, indigestion, cognitive support and more. Only in recent years did health specialists conduct studies to examine turmeric's positive effects. India continues to be the top producer of turmeric in the world, producing over 80% of the global turmeric market and supplying the ingredient to many prospective companies and manufacturers in the United States, Canada, the Middle-East, Japan and Australia.

Curcumin, otherwise known as curcuminoids or phenolic compounds, is the active ingredient within the turmeric root. This powerful antioxidant inhibits certain molecules that cause inflammation. For cardiovascular support, it helps prevent the oxidation of lipids, including LDL (low-density lipoprotein), otherwise known as bad cholesterol. As oxidized LDL can increase the risk of heart attacks, curcumin has shown value in certain areas of cardiovascular health. Curcumin can also give other antioxidants within the body a significant boost. One such antioxidant, glutathione, has detoxifying properties that help maintain the healthy functions of the liver. Curcumin helps the body synthesize glutathione better, improving its effects within the liver for better health.

The most advantageous thing about curcumin is its potency. Studies have shown curcumin being 5 to 8 times stronger than other, more popular antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E. It's strong enough to bind down the hydroxyl radical, considered one of the most dangerous free radicals. Few other antioxidants are able to do so, making curcumin a unique compound when compared to other dietary supplement formulations.

Specific Curcumin Markets

The popularity of curcumin has advanced significantly enough that a relative amount of consumers recognize its many benefits just from its presence on the label. For the herbal market side of dietary supplements, American Botanical's HerbalGram magazine detailed sales of products containing turmeric/curcumin, as the primary ingredient showed 26.2% growth in 2013, taking the top-spot within the natural channel. According to the marketing research firm, SPINS, curcumin product sales for all categories rose 29.5% in the natural channel, totaling $21.6 million. These statistics emphasize curcumin's high profile in the public eye, due to the many positive benefits it employs on the body, ranging from joint inflammation to cognitive support. Coinciding with its plant-based nature, curcumin's herbal properties are seen as a welcome addition in the growing natural/traditional product trend.

Along with internal health benefits, curcumin has been routinely used as a beauty supplement for many centuries. Free radicals that cause aging or sagging skin can be inhibited by curcumin's antioxidant properties. There is an especially high demand for curcumin throughout the Asia Pacific region, due to its increasing popularity as an ingredient for cosmetics and skin care manufacturers. China and India's economies are both contributing to curcumin's involvement in cosmetics and personal care products. One key aspect driving curcumin's popularity is that it offers a natural alternative to the many synthetic antioxidants used in beauty products and supplements.

Its benefits for the skin are supported by certain scientific studies; published in the FASEB Journal in 2014, research showed that curcumin offered 16% protection against oxidative stress, and 8% against UVA damage for skin cells. It was also shown to have a skin-lightening effect, and can provide much needed benefits for dyspigmentation.

Curcumin's Global Appeal

Curcumin's popularity continues to grow in numerous parts of the world. This is due to its anti-inflammatory nature, the number of studies conducted in the medical community, and its reputation as a plant-based compound for the natural market. In 2014, North America was the largest regional market for curcumin, with revenue exceeding $20 million. Curcumin's established role as an ingredient for most pharmaceutical applications in the region is believed to be the primary driver of growth for the market.

Turmeric, the root from which curcumin hails from, has also grown popular in the United States among natural products. Labeled as a super-food, turmeric has been implemented in many different processed food products such as turmeric juice. Suppliers based in the United States are discovering opportunities to grow their own turmeric to meet the rapidly growing demand for this sought-after root.

Both turmeric and curcumin also continue to show strong appeal in many other regions. According to the Spice Board of India, popular regions for turmeric include the Middle-East, where a high supply of the root is sent to, as well as the United States. In the Asia Pacific region, cosmetics with curcumin/turmeric have been steadily growing in popularity, due to antioxidant and skin-lightening properties. Additionally, there has been increasing demand for the natural coloring and flavoring agents of turmeric in the region. Japan has also shown a growing interest, with turmeric-derived beverages selling well.

Europe has utilized curcumin within their market for both supplements and other food processed products. According to Grand View Research, the European region is expected to become the fastest growing regional market for the ingredient, with estimates reaching a CAGR value of over 17% from 2015 to 2022.

Sports Nutrition a Strong Avenue

For heavily physically active sports such as track, basketball, bicycling, etc., joint inflammation can occur frequently, making sports nutrition a viable market for curcumin supplements, and providing opportunity for joint supplement manufacturers.Due to curcumin's best known strength as an anti-inflammatory agent, its future in sports nutrition is vast and varied. For those who are physically active, whether performing casual exercises, consistently participating in sports related activities, or training heavily for a sporting event, pain and inflammation are routine. Many consumers rely on painkillers (NSAIDS)—such as ibuprofen—to treat joint aches. However, serious side-effects can occur in the long-term when these painkillers are taken, resulting in cardiovascular disease or damage to the digestive system.

Current findings from SportsMed Canterbury, Massey University and the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra have researched that such supplements containing curcumin may reduce typical pain that is associated with exercise, as well as possibly boosting physical performance. From the European Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers have surmised that 5 grams of curcumin per day were associated with pain reduction and delayed onset of muscle soreness in subjects. Although more evidence is needed to highlight the scope of curcumin's health benefits, the possibility of curcmumin's effects for those who practice heavy exercise is tangible. Emphasis on curcumin supplements acting as support for the physically active lifestyle, instead of treatment, can appeal to consumers looking for preventative healthcare options.

Natural Mood Lifters

Curcumin's properties for cognitive health are also being currently studied, with some interesting findings to note for possible market opportunities. These new opportunities demonstrate that certain formulations of curcumin can improve cognitive function and energy levels in healthy adults. Such studies include a randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled trial with 60 healthy adults between the ages of 60 and 85. The study lasted for four weeks with participants assigned either the curcumin supplement or a placebo. Results showed those taking the curcumin supplement had improved sustained attention, as well as an average of 1.82% decrease in fatigue. Comparatively, fatigue increased by 17% within the placebo group.

Along with a slight increase in cognitive function, mood itself was improved. Participants claimed they felt more periods of calmness and contentment during the timeframe. Such findings suggest that curcumin may enhance mood and increase energy due to antioxidant properties. More studies are being conducted regarding curcumin's effect on more serious cognitive issues such as dementia and Alzheimer's. Evidence of curcumin reducing the levels of beta amyloid plaques within the brain—a particular compound associated with cognitive decline—are already being discovered.

The Issue with Bioavailability

Curcumin supplements are generally manufactured as herbal capsules, softgels, or tablets for premium bioavailability.Despite curcumin's potency, ordinary curcumin, such as grounded or raw turmeric, has generally very low bioavailability. Before curcumin can reach the affected areas of inflammation or digestion, the compound gets broken down in the liver and gut. When curcumin does happen to reach the targeted tissues, it is often not a long enough time for the compound to be properly utilized, and its healing benefits fully realized. This is why implementing curcumin in other applications, especially dietary supplements, is vastly important.

Enhanced bioavailability forms of curcumin uses different techniques to help it reach the necessary tissues within the human body, and to remain there for a longer span of time. Its use in dietary supplements is more common than in food products, likely due to the low bioavailability of raw turmeric (containing only 3% of curcumin altogether) in such products, while supplements utilize extracted curcumin. Even so, the body does not absorb curcuminoids very well due to both a poor absorption rate and bio-distribution, as the extraction process also creates a fat-soluble compound. Its instability with water contributes to its poor bioavailability, preventing it from being readily absorbed in the bloodstream.

Other issues include color bleeding and staining during the production stages. However, knowledgeable formulators can solve such issues, including the bioavailability rate. Storing the ingredient in closed containers and keeping it from being exposed to strong light can help increase curcumin's color variability. A controlled environment to prevent any color cross examination is also essential. Regarding bioavailability, its fat-soluble nature makes it very well-suited for softgels, as absorption rate is increased when delivered orally. Capsules, tablets, and beverages are other popular options, though only when the ingredient's molecules have been formulated to encourage dispersibility. Configuring particle sizes and employing emulsifying or dispersing agents are other techniques that dietary supplement manufacturers employ when formulating curcumin. The percentage of curcumin in a dosage is generally standardized to 95%, to allow for better absorption rates.

Natural over Synthetic

In the United States, a number of curcumin products have synthetic versions instead of natural. Currently, there are no clinical studies that prove synthetic curcumin's safety, or show its stability in both the blood and tissue after absorption. Because of these lacking statistics, synthetic curcumin is not deemed safe for consumption by legal standards. According to the New Dietary Ingredient (NDI) draft guidance, synthetic copies of botanicals are not considered to be part of the food chain, and therefore cannot be categorized as dietary ingredients. In addition, marketing synthetic curcumin as a natural product can result in serious regulatory penalties. It is the marketer's responsibility to be diligent when sourcing curcumin from suppliers, and to be aware of the type of curcumin used during the manufacturing process.

When attempting to clarify whether certain curcumin is natural or of the synthetic variety, a high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) fingerprint can do so. Identifying three peaks in the HPLC fingerprint shows that curcumin is natural. Turmeric powder in its natural form consists of three ingredients; curcumin, demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin. If only one peak is identified, curcumin itself, then the compound is synthesized. The routine testing—like those mentioned above—may be necessary when dealing with less than dependable suppliers. However, utilizing the services of a cGMP-certified supplement manufacturer with a reliable history of high-quality, authentic ingredients in formulations should dispel the need for extra leg work.

Curcumin's Marketing Hurdles

Due to curcumin's popular presence in the public sphere, it has also attracted the attention of the FDA. Chronic inflammation has previously been linked to numerous diseases, including cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, alzheimer's, and diabetes. The FDA has tempered some of the anti-inflammatory claims in conjunction with curcumin supplements. Under the latest FDA guidelines, dietary supplement companies can still make anti-inflammatory claims as long as the supplement demonstrates its benefits for a non-disease model. Yet, this makes marketing curcumin's benefits a challenge, as the reduction of pain and inflammation is generally seen as an important step of the healing process for many condition-specific ailments. The anti-inflammatory claims of curcumin supplements can be then seen as some kind of remedial agent for the treatment of certain diseases.

The tricky part of inflammation is, while inflammation itself is not a disease condition but simply the body's defense mechanism, it can lead to chronic inflammation, which is a precursor to health conditions that can qualify as a disease. If wording is not particularly chosen for the claim, or not researched thoroughly, regulators can view it as a drug claim instead. The rules of making correct curcumin claims are as follows:

  • Product claims must be tailored for the normal functioning of inflammation and not its chronic version
  • Populations that are 'at-risk' for these conditions—those identified by actions but not related to a disease—are suitable to include in claims (athletes, manual workers, overweight consumers, poor dietary histories)
  • Steer clear of claims for treating diseases correlating with inflammation, including osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer, etc.

Other marketing issues include product competition within the public sphere. As a relatively new ingredient, curcumin has to go against better-known anti-inflammatory supplements, including the popular glucosamine. On a broad scale, most consumers are unaware of curcumin's joint relieving benefits, and how it is a viable alternative to glucosamine. By emphasizing the credible studies done on curcumin, which number over 6,000 currently, the educated consumer can make the decision of curcumin's importance while being delivered the facts on this relatively new ingredient. Due to curcumin's vast benefits that extend beyond anti-inflammation, such as turmeric's ability to improve circulation and maintain liver function, marketers can design new clinical trials to make room for better structured claims.

New 'It' Ingredient of the Year

India remains the top exporter of turmeric curcumin, supplying it to the West, Europe and the Asia Pacific region mainly. Though increasing demand for curcumin has prompted local suppliers to grow their own turmeric ingredient.Turmeric and its compound, curcumin, have a bright future in the health world. Sales of products in the United States containing turmeric as the primary ingredient reached $30 million from May 2013 to May 2014, according to SPINS. This marked a 40% increase from the previous year, with a majority focused in the natural channel. Even with issues over inflammation claims, public demand for a natural-based ingredient providing effective anti-inflammatory support has risen to the forefront. Turmeric's top supplier, India, has exported approximately $555,000 worth of curcumin powder to the United States in response to demand. Understanding the effects of curcumin and knowing how to properly position it in various regional markets amid the ever-shifting industrial landscape, will provide a wealth of opportunity for marketers and nutritional supplement manufacturers.

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