Pairing curcumin with turmeric essential oils offers better protection from ulcerative colitis, study finds

Curcumin has been studied widely and hailed for its anti-inflammatory properties, but a new study by researchers at Baylor Scott & White Research Institute shows other compounds in turmeric – the popular spice it's derived from – hold additional health benefits.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, is the first to compare anti-inflammatory benefits of curcumin against a combination of both curcumin and essential turmeric oils, including aromatic-tumerones, α-turmerones, β-turmerones, α-santalene and aromatic curcumene. Researchers examined how curcumin alone and curcumin paired with essential turmeric oils affect ulcerative colitis, a difficult-to-manage chronic disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract.

"One of curcumin's limitations is that it's poorly absorbed by the body," said Ajay Goel, Ph.D., director of gastrointestinal research and translational genomics and oncology at Baylor Scott & White Research Institute and author of the study. "There has been tremendous interest in developing strategies for enhancing its absorption and effectiveness. Our study found that pairing curcumin with turmeric essential oils enhanced its bioavailability in circulation by nearly tenfold and provided superior protection from ulcerative colitis than curcumin alone."

Dr. Goel and his team confirmed that CCL17, a signaling protein in cells that induces intestinal inflammation, was suppressed by both standard curcumin and essential turmeric oil-curcumin treatments – though the latter treatment was significantly more effective. Higher doses of the curcumin-essential turmeric oils treatment resulted in even more pronounced anti-inflammatory effects.

Recent clinical studies have demonstrated curcumin's benefits in mitigating a variety of health conditions, including arthritis and depression. As the popularity of curcumin supplements continues to rise, the research team aimed to explore whether commercially available curcumin extracts claiming enhanced bioavailability were as effective as consuming the compound through dietary turmeric.

"The takeaway for patients who want to experience the health benefits of curcumin through a commercially available supplement is to look for products that include additional compounds of turmeric – specifically, essential turmeric oils," Dr. Goel said.

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