Today I would like to continue quoting a message sent to me by one of my blog readers (the same who is quoted in my October 19th post) because I think it is tremendously important to understand what happens to curcumin once we swallow it. Not a simple matter, but my blog reader (thank you!!!) makes the process seem simple by using simple terms. Here goes:
The starting point to understanding the central issue of low bioavailability is to realize that curcumin is insoluble in water at pH of 7 and below. Therefore, in the stomach, where the curcumin first encounters body fluids, it remains insoluble because the stomach fluids are acidic. Once the stomach contents enter the small intestine they are changed to alkaline pH by the bile and other digestive fluids that are injected there. Curcumin is soluble in alkaline aqueous solutions at a pH of 7.4 and above and would dissolve in the small intestine. Then the curcumin molecules that are present only when a solution exists can enter the capillaries of the hepatic venous system that serves the stomach and the large and small intestines. Prior to solution, curcumin exists as small crystals or clumps of crystals that cannot pass through the tiny pores in the capillary walls–only molecules of curcumin can–thus the importance of having the curcumin in solution. However, it is found that in the stomach the curcumin is rapidly conjugated to curcumin glucoronide and curcumin sulfate, neither of which show any biological activity with the cells, as does curcumin. As a result, a considerably smaller part of the total ingested curcumin enters the small intestine, ready to be dissolved there. But some does dissolve and gets through the venous capillaries and then proceeds through the hepatic portal vein directly to the liver, where it undergoes “first pass metabolism” wherein more of the curcumin is converted to biologically inactive metabolites. All these hurdles must be surmounted before the curcumin gets a chance to circulate to the rest of the body to organs that might use it beneficially. The end result is that the measurable level of curcumin in the blood serum peaks very soon after a small two mg dose is given and only reaches a very low peak concentration.
Now consider the implications of these results for a person who takes that two gram dose of plain curcumin twice a day, approximately ten hours apart. Within the first hour after dosing, he sees a slight rise in his serum curcumin concentration, which blip then disappears within three hours, leaving nothing to supply to the tissues for the next seven hours. Then the same blip occurs after the second dose is taken, and some curcumin level exists for another three hours. So for about six hours total time there is some curcumin getting to the tissues and nothing for the other eighteen hours of the day. When developing a dosing amount and frequency for a medicine it is the objective to obtain an overlap between dose concentration peaks, so that there is drug available to the tissues for the entire 24 hours, even though the concentration changes as the drug is metabolized and excreted. It will be at the highest concentration shortly after taking a dose and will be at its lowest concentration shortly before taking the next dose. Two grams per day of plain curcumin simply will not give that desired overlap, and even curcumin with Bioperine will not do it either, because it also disappears within five hours. Only a much larger dose of curcumin taken together with Bioperine (or other means of enhancing bioavailability) is likely to achieve a continuous level of curcumin in the serum, though with peaks and valleys.
I hadn’t thought of the implications of curcumin crystals versus molecules before reading this message. A few things began to click in my brain. As I recall, my friend Don (see my October 25th post) takes curcumin at least three times a day. I try to take it twice a day, except on the days when I teach when it is difficult for me to do so. On those days, I usually take it in one big dose, all eight grams of it, when I get home in the afternoon. Now I realize that is probably NOT a good idea, and I will make some changes in my schedule so I always have a morning dose, too. The idea of keeping, or trying to keep, curcumin in the serum with overlapping doses makes total sense to me. After all, when we have a horrendous headache, don’t we take Tylenol or whatnot every four to six hours?