Turmeric vs Curcumin: What’s the Difference and Which is Better?


Probably, most of you have recognized the flavor of turmeric from Middle Eastern or Indian cuisine. As a spice, it provides curry with its distinctive golden yellow color and flavor. Besides curry, in India, it is widely used in chutney and biryani (aromatic spiced rice) preparations.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, it is used in ‘gulai’ or ‘masak lemak’ (vegetables or fish cooked with coconut milk, onion/shallot, chilies, and turmeric) and to coat fish along with some salt for deep frying. It is an important ingredient in Thai cooking, for instance, used in Musalman curry and red curry. In the West, it is used as a coloring agent in mustard, cheese, and several other products besides being a great addition to soups and stews.

After harvesting, its rhizomes or rootstocks are cleaned, dried and ground into an orange-yellow powder that can be used as a spice, medicine, or food coloring.  Consuming Turmeric with meals increases its absorption, especially with high-fat foods, ginger, chilies or black pepper. As the distinct flavor of turmeric becomes more pronounced during cooking, you should spice up your foods slowly and taste frequently in order not to over spice your recipe.


It has been revered in the Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda for thousands of years for its medicinal/therapeutic properties. It has actually been used by both medical systems for over 4000 years to treat ailments ranging from upset stomach to various forms of cancer. Indian practitioners use turmeric as a stomach or liver tonic and blood purifier.

It has also been used other traditional medicine systems in South East Asia, including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand to prepare herbal concoctions. In Malaysia and Indonesia, for instance, turmeric is used as an ingredient to make ‘jamu’ or an elixir. Turmeric has recently gained popularity in the West as a potent herbal medicine due to its benefits for a wide variety of health conditions.


Most people believe that turmeric medicinal properties are mainly due to its curcuminoids content, one of which is curcumin. Curcumin has received much publicity over its many positive biological activities backed by studies. Conversely, many studies have shown turmeric may have better performance in term of the levels of biological activities compared to that of curcumin.

Many people don’t know that besides curcumin, there are other important bioactive molecules in turmeric. Dr. James A Duke, for instance, compiled biological activities of the molecules in turmeric that shows 23 chemicals have antibacterial (antibiotic) property, 12 have anticancer, 17 have antitumor, 37 anti-inflammatory, and 27 of them are antioxidants.


In regard to 37 chemicals with an anti-inflammatory property, for instance, they include 1,8-cineole, alpha-curcumene, alpha-pinene, alpha-terpineol, ar-turmerone, ascorbic acid, azulene, beta-pinene, beta-sitosterol, bis-desmethoxycurcumin, borneol, caffeic acid, caryophyllene, cinnamic acid, copper, and curcumin.

Other chemicals attributed to a similar property include dehydrodurdione, eugenol, germacrone, limonene, linalool, magnesium, procurcumenol, protocatechuic acid, quercetin, stigmasterol, vanillic acid, curcuminoids, demethoxycurcumins, salicylates, bis-(4-hydroxy-cinnamoil)-methane, api-procurcumenol, feruloyl-4-hydroxycinnamoyl-methane, sodium curcumate, tetrahydrocurcumin, and beta-turmerone.

Conflicting evidence

Many studies that have taken place in test tubes and animals demonstrate that turmeric may help reduce inflammation, fight infections and some cancers, and treat digestive problems, however, turmeric may not work as well in humans. Some studies have used an injectable form of curcumin, which is expected to be different with regard to outcomes compared to that of oral intake, and not all studies agree. Still, some of the studies show conflicting evidence.

As a practitioner, I personally believe the use of the whole turmeric over curcumin in maintaining health or curing certain types of illnesses due to synergistic effects of many chemicals content in turmeric.

Studies have shown that reconstituting curcumin with the non-curcuminoid components of turmeric increases the bioavailability substantially. In other words, the intake of the whole turmeric may provide you the whole package – all beneficial bioactive chemical constituents that work on various organ system and the enhancement of curcumin bioavailability.

Turmeric is lipophilic, meaning it is fat soluble. People in India is used to taking ‘lehyam,’ which consists of powdered turmeric, ghee (clarified butter) and jaggery.

Traditional Uses

Turmeric is used traditionally by people of India, for instance, in Crohn’s disease, cancer, high cholesterol, allergy, anorexia, age spot, Alzheimer, anal cancer, abscess, acid reflux, acne, and adenomyosis. It is also used in asthma, anemia, cough, cold, pneumonia, angina, breast cancer, bursitis, gynecomastia, headache, gonorrhea, arthritis, bronchitis. Burns, flu, diabetes, ringworms, melasma, urticaria, transverse myelitis, fungal nails, sore throat, chest congestion, flatulence, dyspnea, atelectasis, glomerulonephritis, spondylitis, tennis elbow, measles, muscle sprains, anthrax, hyperpigmentation, stye, crack heel, dandruff, baldness, and skin health.

Turmeric is also used to treat gallstones, athlete foot, gout, candidiasis, eczema, difficult menses, leucorrhea, phlegm, intermittent claudication, slip disc, plantar fasciitis, prostatitis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, pain, dental abscesses,  leucoderma, aging joints, adenitis, Avian flu, brain injury, carbuncle, Chagas disease, dementia, chest pain, entamoeba, fistula, ganglion, lichen planus, kidney disease, milk allergy, musculoskeletal disorder, mycosis, myeloma, nasal polyps, pneumonitis, pulmonary fibrosis, scleroderma, frozen shoulder, inflamed heart, and cervical cancer.


Turmeric can be used in combination with other herbs. A pinch of Aloe Vera gel mixed with 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder, for instance, is said to help relieve fatigue.

Roots of Sweet Flag coated with turmeric powder, then dried under the sun, followed by roasting it over the flame until the outer surface blackened, after which it is ground until it turns into fine powder. The intake of 1 gram twice per day is said to help purify the blood.

Please take note that even though the article specifically focuses on turmeric, I am not in any manner trying to underestimate the health benefits of curcumin supplementation. It is just that I personally believe the intake of the whole turmeric would result in better outcomes as it contains many phytochemicals that provide synergistic effects.

Dr. Andrew Weil asserts that “……until proven otherwise in head to head studies, whole plants are usually a better choice than isolates. On the other hand, curcumin appears to have a more rapid and dramatic effect and may be the better choice as a therapeutic (rather than a preventative) preparation.”

Bioavailability enhancers

If you decide to take a curcumin supplement look for a standardized extract with the addition of bioavailability enhancers such as piperine, phosphatidylserine, or accompanied by nano-particles. Otherwise, much of your supplement may be passing straight through you via intestines.


Mindboggler - is an alternative medicine educator/practitioner who advocates preventive medicines and holistic healings. He loves sharing his knowledge and experience in helping the public to nurture mind, body, and spirit - to help achieve optimal health. BS is a short form of my real name and I use it to avoid those who hate my views from reading my articles. This particular group of people is so mean that they try to single out anything that are against their knowledge or belief. They actually are only well-versed in their field which makes some to call them 'racehorse.'