Turmeric, also known as the golden spice, is a tall plant that grows in Asia and Central America. It gives curry its yellow color and has been used in traditional Indian medicine for thousands of years to treat various health conditions. Studies support its use and show that it can benefit your health.
Coupling turmeric with black pepper may enhance its effects. This article reviews the potential health benefits of combining turmeric and black pepper.
KEY ACTIVE INGREDIENTS
In recent years, research has confirmed that turmeric has medicinal properties (1). And while most people think of it as nothing but a seasoning, black pepper can benefit health as well.
Both turmeric and black pepper have key active ingredients that contribute to their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and disease-fighting qualities.
Curcumin in Turmeric
The key compounds in turmeric are called curcuminoids. Curcumin itself is the most active ingredient and appears to be the most important.
As a polyphenol, curcumin has several advantages to health. It’s a strong antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties (1, 2).
However, one of the greatest downfalls of curcumin is that it’s not well absorbed in the body (1).
Piperine in Black Pepper
Black pepper comes from black peppercorns. It contains the bioactive compound piperine, which is similar to capsaicin, the medicinal component found in chili powder and cayenne pepper (3).
Peperine has been shown to help relieve nausea, headaches and poor digestion and also has anti-inflammatory properties (4, 5, 6).
One of the most significant benefits of piperine may be its ability to boost the absorption of certain compounds in the digestion process (2, 7).
PIPERINE ENHANCES THE ABSORPTION OF CURCUMIN
Unfortunately, the curcumin in turmeric is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream. As a result, you could be missing out on its advantages to health.
However, adding black pepper can help. Research supports that combining the piperine in black pepper with the curcumin in turmeric enhances curcumin absorption by up to 2,000% (2, 7, 8).
One study showed that it only took 20 mg of piperine to 2 grams of curcumin to elicit this response (8). Piperine improves the bioavailability of curcumin, meaning that it’s more available to be absorbed and used in your body.
There are currently two theories on how this works:
- Piperine may relax the intestinal wall allowing larger molecules like curcumin to pass through and be absorbed (9).
- It may slow down liver metabolism of curcumin enough that your body can absorb it more effectively (10, 11).
As a result of both actions, more curcumin is absorbed, allowing it to function at an optimal level.
THE COMBINATION BOOSTS HEALTH BENEFITS
While curcumin and piperine each have their own health benefits, they’re even better together.
Fights Inflammation and Helps Reduce Pain
Turmeric’s curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, it’s so potent that some studies have shown it to match the power of some anti-inflammatory drugs, without the negative side effects (12, 13, 14).
Studies also demonstrate that turmeric may play a role in preventing and treating arthritis, a disease characterized by joint inflammation and pain (15, 16, 17).
Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties are often praised for reducing pain and temporary discomfort.
Piperine has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic properties as well. It helps desensitize a specific pain receptor in your body, which can further reduce feelings of discomfort (18, 19, 20).
When combined, curcumin and piperine are a powerful inflammation-fighting duo that can help reduce discomfort and pain.
Can Help Prevent Cancer
Test-tube studies suggest that it can decrease cancer growth, development and spread at the molecular level. It could also contribute to the death of cancerous cells (23, 24, 25, 26). Piperine seems to play a role in the death of certain cancer cells as well, which can decrease your risk of tumor formation, while other research indicates it, too, might inhibit the growth of cancerous cells (27, 28).
One study showed that curcumin and piperine, both separately and in combination, interrupted the self-renewal process of breast stem cells. This is important, as this process is where breast cancer originates (29).
Further studies point to curcumin and piperine having protective effects against additional cancers, including prostate, pancreatic, colorectal and more (22, 23, 27, 30).
Aids in Digestion
Indian medicine has relied on turmeric to help with digestion for thousands of years. Modern studies support its use, showing that it can help reduce gut spasms and flatulence (31).
Both turmeric and piperine have been shown to enhance the activity of digestive enzymes in the gut, which helps your body process food more quickly and easily (32).
Furthermore, the anti-inflammatory properties of both turmeric and piperine may aid in reducing gut inflammation, which can help with digestion.
SAFETY AND DOSAGE
Curcumin and piperine are generally considered safe (32, 33, 34). There are no official recommendations for consumption of either, and the maximum tolerable intake has not been identified.
Certain people may experience side effects like nausea, headache and skin rashes after taking curcumin in large doses. It’s thus important to follow the dosage recommendations on the supplement packaging (35, 36).
The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has set the acceptable dietary intake for curcumin as 1.4 mg per pound (3 mg/kg) of body weight per day, or approximately 245 mg for a 175-pound (80-kg) person (37).
In Indian culture, turmeric and black pepper are commonly consumed in tea, often combined with olive oil, coconut oil, and ginger.
Because turmeric is fat-soluble, consuming it with fat may increase absorption. However, to fully reap the medicinal benefits of curcumin, it’s best consumed in supplement form with a pinch of black pepper.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Turmeric and black pepper each have health benefits, due to the compounds curcumin and piperine. As piperine enhances curcumin absorption in the body by up to 2,000%, combining the spices magnifies their effects. They may reduce inflammation and pain, treat and prevent cancer and improve digestion, particularly in supplement form.
If you’re looking to fully enjoy the advantages of turmeric and black pepper, consider mixing these spices for best results.