What Inhibits Turmeric Absorption?


Turmeric is a bright yellow spice that has been used for centuries in Indian and Asian cuisines. More recently, turmeric has gained popularity in the West due to its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The active compound in turmeric responsible for these effects is curcumin. Unfortunately, curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body. This can significantly reduce the positive effects of consuming turmeric if the absorption is inhibited.

What Inhibits Turmeric Absorption

So what inhibits turmeric absorption? There are several factors that can affect how well your body can utilize curcumin when you ingest turmeric. Let's take a closer look at why turmeric has poor bioavailability and how you can maximize absorption.

Why Does Turmeric Have Poor Bioavailability?

Bioavailability refers to how much of a substance is absorbed and utilized by the body after being consumed. When a nutrient or compound has poor bioavailability, only a small percentage of it is actually absorbed and used.

Studies show that even very large doses of turmeric only result in very small amounts of curcumin being present in blood plasma. One study found that ingesting up to 8 grams of curcumin only led to slight blood levels of the compound (1).

This poor absorption is attributed to several factors related to the composition and metabolism of curcumin.

Chemical Structure of Curcumin

The molecular structure of curcumin makes it difficult for the body to absorb efficiently.

Curcumin is hydrophobic, meaning it does not dissolve well in water. This makes absorption from the intestines into the bloodstream more challenging (2).

Additionally, curcumin demonstrates poor solubility and stability at neutral and alkaline pH levels in the gut. The compound degrades rapidly at higher pH, further reducing how much can be absorbed (3).

Conversion of Curcumin in the Liver and Intestines

After being absorbed from the intestines, curcumin undergoes rapid metabolism in the liver and intestinal wall.

Curcumin metabolites are formed, reducing the concentration of pure curcumin entering circulation (4).

Studies indicate that some of the biological activity of curcumin may be lost during this metabolization process (5).

Quick Systemic Elimination

The small amount of curcumin that does make it into the bloodstream is quickly eliminated through the gall bladder, kidneys, and intestinal tract.

Human clinical trials using daily doses between 4 grams and 8 grams of curcumin produce peak blood levels around only 1 micromolar. Curcumin concentrations drop below detectable levels within a few short hours (6).

This quick systemic removal of curcumin reduces circulating levels and limits the accumulation of significant concentrations in tissues.

So in summary, the poor solubility, instability, extensive metabolism, and rapid systemic elimination all contribute to the low bioavailability of curcumin from turmeric.

7 Main Factors That Inhibit Turmeric Absorption

There are several main factors that have been shown to inhibit the absorption and bioavailability of curcumin when consuming turmeric. Being aware of these can help you maximize the effects of adding turmeric to your diet.

1. Presence of Other Phytonutrients

Turmeric contains other phytonutrients besides curcumin, such as tumerones and aromatic turmerone. However, some of these other compounds may inhibit curcumin absorption.

One study found the bioavailability of curcumin from turmeric was lower compared to an equivalent amount of pure curcumin extract (7). This indicates the other natural compounds found in turmeric may be interfering with curcumin absorption.

2. Inadequate Fat for Improved Solubility

As mentioned previously, curcumin’s hydrophobic nature makes it insoluble in water. However, it is soluble in lipids and oils.

Consuming turmeric or curcumin with dietary fats can significantly enhance absorption by increasing solubility in the intestinal tract (8).

Without sufficient fats present, less curcumin will dissolve and be available for absorption into the bloodstream.

3. Effects of Piperine on Absorption

Piperine is a compound found in black pepper that can inhibit certain metabolic processes in the liver and intestines.

By slowing these processes, piperine may increase the bioavailability of curcumin by reducing its breakdown and elimination (9).

Consuming turmeric without any black pepper means there will be no piperine to potentially enhance curcumin absorption by blocking its metabolism.

4. High Risk of Degradation from Cooking

Exposing curcumin to heat through extensive cooking at high temperatures can degrade significant amounts of the compound.

Boiling turmeric for 15-20 minutes has been found to reduce curcumin levels by up to 50% (10).

Frying turmeric in oils for prolonged periods or repeatedly reheating cooked turmeric dishes may also decrease curcumin concentrations and absorption potential.

5. Low Solubility in Neutral pH Environments

The solubility and stability of curcumin depends heavily on the pH level of its environment. Acidic environments enhance curcumin solubility and stability.

But within the neutral pH of the intestines and blood, curcumin is poorly soluble and readily degrades (11).

This change in pH as turmeric passes from the stomach to the intestines likely reduces the solubility of curcumin and the amount available for absorption.

6. Interactions with Medications and Supplements

Curcumin has been shown to interact with some medications by decreasing their absorption or speeding up their metabolism and elimination from the body.

Notable drug interactions have been found with certain antibiotics, antidepressants, anti-inflammatories, and chemotherapy drugs (12).

If taking any prescription medications or supplements, consult your doctor before consuming large amounts of turmeric or curcumin.

7. Binding to Fiber and Proteins in Food

When turmeric is consumed as part of a meal, the curcumin can bind with proteins and fiber from the other foods.

This binding reduces the solubility and absorption of curcumin into the gastrointestinal tract (13).

Taking turmeric supplements between meals or away from protein-heavy foods may be preferable for maximum absorption potential.

Now that you know what factors can inhibit turmeric absorption, let’s look at some ways you can improve curcumin bioavailability.

6 Tips to Boost Turmeric Absorption

Here are some science-backed methods you can use to enhance curcumin bioavailability when consuming turmeric:

1. Pair with Fats or Oils

Eating turmeric with dietary fats is one of the most effective ways to increase curcumin absorption.

The fats improve solubility and prevent curcumin degradation in the intestines. Good choices include coconut milk, avocado, nuts, olive oil, and coconut oil (14).

2. Add Black Pepper

Try pairing turmeric with black pepper. The piperine in pepper inhibits liver metabolism and increases curcumin bioavailability by up to 2000% (15).

As little as 1/20th teaspoon of black pepper could significantly improve absorption.

3. Take with a Pepsin Supplement

Pepsin is a stomach enzyme that breaks down proteins. Research shows taking a pepsin supplement along with turmeric can increase curcumin bioavailability by enhancing solubility and stability (16).

4. Cook at Low Heat

Minimize cooking turmeric at high heats for long periods. Lightly sauteeing or simmering turmeric helps retain more curcumin compared to prolonged boiling or frying.

5. Optimize Dosage Timing

Smaller doses of curcumin taken multiple times per day may increase absorption compared to a single large dose.

Taking turmeric or curcumin supplements between meals can also maximize absorption by preventing binding with food proteins and fibers.

6. Purchase High-Potency Extracts

Look for turmeric extract supplements standardized to contain higher concentrations of curcumin. Extracts with enhanced bioavailability containing agents like piperine and phospholipids are also available.

Following these tips can significantly increase the absorption and utilization of curcumin from turmeric. Let’s recap some of the key points:

  • Consume with fats or oils to improve solubility
  • Add black pepper to inhibit curcumin metabolism
  • Cook at low temperatures and avoid prolonged heat exposure
  • Take smaller doses 2-3 times daily rather than a large single dose
  • Purchase high-potency enhanced bioavailability extracts when possible

Frequently Asked Questions About Turmeric Absorption

Here are answers to some common questions about what affects curcumin absorption from turmeric:

Does Boiling Turmeric Destroy Curcumin?

Boiling turmeric for more than 10-15 minutes can decrease curcumin levels by up to 50%. Lower heat cooking methods like simmering and sauteeing are preferable.

Is Turmeric Better Than Curcumin Supplements?

Due to poor bioavailability, high-potency curcumin extracts may provide more active curcumin than turmeric spice. Turmeric may have other benefits from containing additional curcuminoids and oils.

What Is the Best Time to Take Turmeric?

Taking turmeric supplements between meals allows curcumin to be absorbed without binding to food proteins and fibers. Dividing doses throughout the day may also enhance absorption.

Does Taking Turmeric with Milk Increase Absorption?

The proteins and fat in milk may slightly help absorption compared to water. But dairy can also reduce solubility. Overall, healthier fats like oils and nuts are better.

What Herbs Increase Turmeric Bioavailability?

Black pepper containing piperine is the most proven way to boost curcumin absorption. Ginger and fats like coconut oil may also help slightly.


Achieving the full health benefits of turmeric requires maximizing the absorption and bioavailability of its main active compound, curcumin.

Due to its poor solubility, extensive metabolism, quick elimination, and other factors, curcumin from turmeric is very poorly absorbed by the body.

Cooking methods, food interactions, dietary fats, and supplemental agents like black pepper and pepsin all influence how much curcumin can be utilized.

Following the tips outlined and being aware of absorption inhibitors can help boost the effects of turmeric. Paired with a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle, turmeric can be a great addition to your wellness regimen.

What Are Some Foods That Can Boost Turmeric Absorption?

Some foods that can help boost turmeric absorption include:

  • Healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, and avocado
  • Black pepper, due to the piperine content
  • Ginger, which may enhance bioavailability like piperine
  • Lemon, since acidic environments improve curcumin solubility
  • Broccoli sprouts, which contain sulforaphane shown to enhance absorption

How Much Black Pepper Do You Need With Turmeric?

Studies have found that just 1/20th teaspoon of black pepper can significantly enhance curcumin absorption from turmeric. The piperine in pepper is very potent. Adding at least a pinch to dishes with turmeric can make a difference.

Does Taking Turmeric Supplements with Water Work?

Taking turmeric or curcumin capsules with water instead of food can help improve absorption by preventing curcumin from binding with proteins and fibers. However, some fat content is still preferred for maximum bioavailability. Many turmeric supplements add coconut oil or phospholipids for this purpose.

Can You Improve Absorption by Combining Turmeric with Cayenne?

Like black pepper, cayenne pepper also contains piperine which can block curcumin metabolism. However, cayenne contains much less piperine compared to black pepper. Just taking cayenne alone may not have as much of an absorption-boosting effect.

How Long Does it Take for Turmeric to Reach Maximum Absorption?

Studies show that curcumin levels from turmeric tend to peak around 1-2 hours after consumption. However, the rate and extent of absorption can vary greatly depending on bioavailability enhancers like pepper and fats. Taking turmeric with food high in protein and fiber can delay absorption.

Can You Increase Bioavailability by Eating Turmeric Raw?

Raw turmeric may have slightly higher curcumin content compared to cooked. However, cooking with fats increases solubility which likely enhances absorption more than consuming raw. Turmeric's tough texture also makes it difficult to eat raw. Boiling extensively will likely reduce curcumin content in any case.


Turmeric contains the potent antioxidant curcumin but it is very poorly absorbed by the body. Curcumin's molecular structure makes it insoluble in water and unstable at neutral pH levels, reducing intestinal absorption. Extensive metabolism in the liver and intestines coupled with rapid systemic elimination also decrease circulating curcumin levels. Consuming turmeric or curcumin supplements with dietary fats like coconut oil can enhance absorption by increasing solubility. Adding just a pinch of black pepper can inhibit curcumin metabolism and increase bioavailability 2000%. Taking smaller doses 2-3 times per day, cooking turmeric lightly at low temperatures, and avoiding interactions with medications may also improve absorption. Look for high-potency turmeric extracts standardized for curcumin. Follow dosage timing, food pairing, and cooking methods carefully to maximize turmeric's health benefits.

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