Numerous health benefits have been demonstrated for curcumin which is extracted from turmeric (Curcuma longa L). However, due to its poor absorption in the free form in the gastrointestinal tract and rapid biotransformation, various formulations have been developed to enhance its bioavailability. Previous studies indicate that the free form of curcumin is more bioactive than its conjugated counterparts in target tissues. Most curcumin pharmacokinetics studies in humans designed to assess its absorption and bioavailability have measured and reported total (free plus conjugated) curcumin, but not free, bioactive curcumin in the plasma because enzymatic hydrolysis was employed prior to its extraction and analysis. Therefore, the bioavailability of free curcumin cannot be determined.
Eight human subjects (4 male, 4 female) consumed a single dose of 400 mg curcumin in an enhanced absorption formulation, and blood samples were collected over 6 h. Plasma was treated either with or without glucuronidase/sulfatase prior to extraction. Curcumin and its major metabolites were analyzed using HPLC-tandem mass spectrometry. In addition, the literature was searched for pharmacokinetic studies involving curcumin using PubMed and Google Scholar, and the reported bioavailability data were compared based on whether hydrolysis of plasma samples was used prior to sample analysis.
Hydrolysis of blood plasma samples prior to extraction and reporting the results as “curcumin” obscures the amount of free, bioactive curcumin and total curcuminoids as compared to non-hydrolyzed samples. As a consequence, the data and biological effects reported by most pharmacokinetic studies are not a clear indication of enhanced plasma levels of free bioactive curcumin due to product formulations, leading to a misrepresentation of the results of the studies and the products when enzymatic hydrolysis is employed.
When enzymatic hydrolysis is employed as is the case with most studies involving curcumin products, the amount of free bioactive curcumin is unknown and cannot be determined. Therefore, extreme caution is warranted in interpreting published analytical results from biological samples involving ingestion of curcumin-containing products.
ClinicalTrails.gov, trial identifying number NCT04103788, September 24, 2019. Retrospectively registered.
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Stohs, S. J., Chen, C. Y. O., Preuss, H. G., Ray, S. D., Bucci, L. R., Ji, J., & Ruff, K. J. (2019). The fallacy of enzymatic hydrolysis for the determination of bioactive curcumin in plasma samples as an indication of bioavailability: A comparative study. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 19(1), 293. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-019-2699-x