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This volatile yellow-orange oil, extracted from turmeric, is getting tons of scientific attention, with research in wide-ranging fields from hiv to cancer to diabetes to mental functioning and myriad more studies. Yet something called "curcumin" has been in use in India for centuries. Are they one and the same?

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Curcumin has been used for ages in the East. The word for "turmeric" is still "curcumin" in many languages, including German, Italian, and many Eastern languages. Turmeric spice is made from the root of the plant Curcuma longa, which is in the ginger family. Turmeric root is very deep orange, almost red. It is used very plentifully in India, and elsewhere in the East. The fact that India produces nearly all of the world's turmeric, and consumes 80% of it, should shed some quick light on the claim that India has the lowest Alzheimer's rate in the world.

Turmeric is used in a powdered form. The root is dried completely, then ground. There are several varieties of turmeric root. Some are better for eating, some better for using to dye cloth and other things. More on this at the Turmeric page.

The word "Curcumin" in the West today denotes, by all accounts, an extract of turmeric, and also thus a constituent of turmeric. It is a yellow-orange oil, just the tiniest drop of which will color things very brilliantly. Today, scientists are researching the pure compound scientifically called "Curcumin" at breathtaking speed. The news is just starting to leak out in America about the profound effects of turmeric on human health (preventing Alzheimers, dropping hiv readings to the bottom of the scale, inhibiting cancer in all its stages --- all found in Cumulated Index Medicus from the National Library of Medicine in America). But the term "turmeric" is rather inelegant. Much better to use the unknown (to Westerners) term "curcumin", for which new claims can be made without sounding like we missed something very elemental centuries ago (which obviously we did, just like we missed for centuries the fact that simple limes prevent scurvy --- but one has to learn sometime).

So, the term "curcumin" now must be used with much qualification. There are substances in turmeric called "curcuminoids" that also are not synonymous with "curcumin". The curcuminoids are chemically-defineable substances in turmeric, and include volatile oils (that is, oils that evaporate, making shelf-life very unstable).


"Turmeric contains a variety of bioactive substances called curcuminoids. The most active component is curcumin, an orange-yellow volatile oil that includes three curcuminoids: turmerone, atlantone, and zingiberone."
From the website

Wow! How does one put this into a Venn diagram??? Is Curcumin a sub-set of turmeric? And curcuminoids is a sub-set of curcumin? And turmerone, atlantone, and zingiberone are all individual sub-sets of curcuminoids? Or, to re-phrase: "The curcuminoids turmerone, atlantone, and zingiberone are components of curcumin, an orange-yellow volatile oil in turmeric"??

BEGIN VARIOUS QUOTES, posted in impromptu fashion

"Turmeric extract (called curcumin) does not work as well as turmeric powder for the purpose of fighting intestinal pathogens. Use the plain root powder...Curcumin does not appear to have as much effect as plain turmeric against pathogens. Usual dose of turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp bulk powder or two capsules" -
Thanks to

"in India, where foods are loaded with turmeric, just 1 percent of people over 65 contract Alzheimer's the lowest incidence of the disease worldwide." -
Thanks to

From eminent researcher Dr. Sally Frautschy, this definition, May 20, 2002:

"Curcumin is a very specific term, Diferulylmethane which is a molecule that contains a biphenolic (two rings) antioxidant of molecular weight 368.4. It is fat soluble. Curcuminoids is a family of compounds, which include curcumin. Curcuminoids, including curcumin, are extracted from the spice turmeric, which can be from 2-5% curcumin. All of these compounds are yellow & can be used in dying clothing."

From the Cumulated Index Medicus from the National Library of Medicine in America

Titles of scientific studies on curcumin (turmeric)

1998, selected from a total of 40 studies published that year

Mechanisms of anticarcinogenic properties of curcumin: the effect of curcumin on glutathione linked detoxification enzymes in rat liver

Inhibitory effect of curcuminoids on MCF-7 cell proliferation...

New curcuminoids isolated from Zingiber cassumunar protect cells suffering from oxidative stress

In vivo inhibition of nitric oxide synthase gene expression by curcumin, a cancer preventive natural product with anti-inflammatory properties

Effect of curcumin on the aryl hydrocarbon receptor and cytochrome P450 1A1 in MCF-7 human breast carcinoma cells

Inhibitory effects of curcumin on tumorigenesis in mice

Amelioration of renal lesions associated with diabetes by dietary curcumin in streptozotocin diabetic rats.

Inhibitory effects of curcumin and tetrahydrocurcuminoids on the tumor promoter-induced reactive oxygen species generation in leukocytes in vitro and in vivo

1999, selected from a total of 39 studies published that year

Systemic administration of the NF-kappaB inhibitor curcumin stimulates muscle regeneration after traumatic injury

Anti-metastatic activity of curcumin and catechin

The inhibition of the estrogenic effects of pesticides and environmental chemicals by curcumin and isoflavonoids.

Modulatory effects of curcumin on the chromosomal damage induced by doxorubicin in Chinese hamster ovary cells

Chemopreventive effect of curcumin, a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agent, during the promotion/progression stages of colon cancer

DNA damage and repair in human lymphocytes and gastric mucosa cells exposed to chromium and curcumin

2000, selected from a total of 41 studies published that year

Antibacterial activity of turmeric oil: a byproduct from curcumin manufacture.

Pulmonary protective effects of curcumin against paraquat toxicity

Neuroprotective role of curcumin from curcuma longa on ethanol-induced brain damage

Curcumin enhances wound healing in streptoxotocin induced diabetic rats and genetically diabetic mice

From an eminent Indian chemist, Dr. Vaishali Kulkarni

Here is some information about curcumin.

Turmeric has been used in Indian systems of medicine for a long time. It is listed in an Assyrian herbal dating from about 600 BC and is also mentioned by Dioscorides.. The crystalline coloring matter, curcumin, is a diferuloyl methane. It dissolves in concentrated sulphuric acid giving a yellow-red coloration. (Mayer & Cook,93; Chem. Abstr.,1948,42,8496).

The rhizomes contain curcuminoids, curcumin, demethoxy curcumin, bis- demethoxycurcumin, 5'- methoxycurcumin and dihydrocurcumin which are found to be natural anti-oxidants. (a-Phellandrene?) A new curcuminoid, cyclocurcumin, was isolated from the nematocidally active fraction of turmeric. The fresh rhizomes also contain two new natural phenolics which possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities and also two new pigments. Several sesquiterpenes, germacrone, turmerone, ar-(+)-, a-, ß- turmerones; ß- bisabolene; a-curcumene; zingiberene; ß- sesquiphellandene, bisacurone; curcumenone; dehydrocurdione; procurcumadiol; bis-acumol; curcumenol; isoprocurcumenol epiprocurcumenol; procurcumenol; zedoaronediol; curlone; and turmeronol A and turmeronol B, have been recorded from the rhizomes.

The use of turmeric was described in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine as early as the 7th century AD (see Chinese Herbal Medicine). In various Asian folk medicine traditions, turmeric has been used to treat a long list of conditions, including diarrhea, fever, bronchitis, colds, parasitic worms, leprosy, and bladder and kidney inflammations. Herbalists have applied turmeric salve to bruises, leech bites, festering eye infections, mouth inflammations, skin conditions, and infected wounds. Some people inhale fumes of burning turmeric to relieve chronic coughs. Turmeric mixed with hot water and sugar is considered by some herbalists to be a remedy for colds. In India and Malaysia, there is a custom of pasting turmeric onto the skin, a practice now under study for the possibility that it may prevent skin cancer. The bright red forehead mark worn by some Hindu women is created by mixing turmeric with lime juice.

The yellow coloring matter, curcumin, was first obtained (impure) by Vogel and Pelletier; more recently it was prepared in pure and crystalline form by Daube (1870), and contemporaneously by Ivanow-Gajewsky. It was further studied and some derivatives of it prepared by C. Loring Jackson and A. G. Menke, in 1882-83, who determined the formula C14H14O4. These chemists obtained it from the root by first removing the fatty and volatile oil by means of ligroin, which removed 11 per cent of the weight of the root, then abstracting curcumin (contaminated with resins), by means of ether, and repeatedly crystallizing from alcohol until the melting point became constant, viz.: 178° C. (352.4° F.). The yield was 0.3 per cent. As thus obtained, curcumin crystallizes in amber-yellow prisms, appearing orange-yellow in reflected light, insoluble in water and diluted acids, sparingly soluble (1 in 2000) in benzene (Daube's solvent, which refuses to dissolve the resins); easily soluble in ether, chloroform, and alcohol; also in diluted alkaline solutions with a striking red-brown, fluorescent color. It is partly soluble, with crimson color, in concentrated acid solutions. Non-alkaline solutions exhibit green fluorescence. Chemically, curcumin is a substituted aromatic oxyacid, yielding vanillin with weak oxidizers, and protocatechuic acid when fused with caustic potash.

Hope this information will be of help for you.

vaishali kulkarni


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curry powder health benefits curcumin turmeric prevents or protects against alzheimers hiv cancer research cloves nutmeg cumin cinnamon curries

Curcumin Links
Ram Traders: Best description of what curcumin and turmeric are; full history, maps, order page

Healthwell: Thorough overview of turmeric and curcumin, with the diseases they help, how much to take, one side effect, many references, and more.


Curry: as used in India, this simply means "sauce"; Indian foods made with sauces are thus all "curries"

Curry Powder: a readily-available blend of spices which is a Western approximation of Indian spice blends, and typically contains turmeric, coriander, chillies, cumin, mustard, ginger, fenugreek, garlic, cloves, salt, and any number of other spices

Masala: In India and her neighbors, a blend of powdered spices, of a specific type for a specific type of dish; said to be about 100 kinds of masalas in Indian cooking

Garam masala: A readily-available masala composed of delicate, heat-sensitive spices; thus, it is added at the end of cooking, after the flame has been turned off (see left)

Curcumin: Confusion exists in present usage of this word; Curcumin is the name for turmeric in many countries; however, expensive products called "Curcumin" are now being sold with the vitamins at health food outlets, and research on curcumin abounds in current medical literature. Some say that curcumin is the yellow oils that give turmeric its yellow color, and which are also used as both food coloring and textile dyeing. Others call these yellow oils "curcuminoids" or "curcumin extract." Curcumin has nothing to do with "Cumin" spice (see below). See the Curcumin page

Curcuminoids: Chemicals in turmeric that are being studied for their physiological effects; one group of curcuminoids comprises a potent yellow-orange volatile oil (see Curcumin Extract below); this oil contains three compounds called turmerone, atlantone, and zingiberone, among other substances

Curcumin Extract: The term used by Indian pharmacists to denote the potent and expensive yellow-orange oil which is the dye substance extracted from turmeric, used both for food coloring and for textile dye; has been used for centuries in India

Curry Leaves: A plant with small, dark green leaves (about 1 inch long) that give a mild flavor to Indian food; usually used fresh, not dried; they are sometimes included in Curry Powder, but do not give Curry Powder its name

Cumin: A small, warm-climate annual plant of which the seeds are used; often mistranslated as "caraway" in curry recipes due to similarity of the Indian words for both cumin and caraway, jeera, as well as nearly-identical appearance of the seeds; assume that "caraway" means "cumin" in curry recipes; "Cumin" has nothing to do with "Curcumin" (see above)

Chilli: Red chillies, also called Red Pepper or Cayenne Pepper in America

Chilli Powder: In Asia/Europe, the powder of pure red chillies -- this would be called Red Pepper or Cayenne Pepper in America; American "Chilli Powder" is a very different blend of spices, including cumin and with very little red chilli in it, used in Chili con carne, barbecue and "Texas" style cooking

Haldi or Haldie: The Indian name for Turmeric

Turmeric: A plant of which the root resembles ginger, and is used extensively in India, which produces almost the whole world's supply, as well as consumes 80% of that supply; botanical name is curcuma longa; is native to Southeast Asia, from Vietnam to the humid hilly regions of Southern India; Indian name Haldi