Written by Divinity Nutra, Updated on January 16, 2022
It’s no secret that turmeric is the center of attention in modern natural medicine. With so many dietary supplements emerging daily, curcumin continues to reign supreme with study after study demonstrating numerous health benefits.
The curcuminoids within turmeric root extract are the antioxidants responsible for the majority of its healing properties. However, turmeric is notorious for having poor bioavailability, which calls its real-world effectiveness into question. Can black pepper extract (piperine) enhance turmeric absorption?
Turmeric and Black Pepper
There are many practical uses for turmeric across a broad spectrum of conditions that researchers have uncovered in recent decades. Curcumin has shown promise for arthritis and joint pain, blood pressure, and even anxiety and depression. This potent spice can also help with diabetes and blood thinning.
While most studies yielded impressive results, it was clear that turmeric, by nature, had very poor absorption within the body. Thus, additional studies tested black pepper’s capacity to boost bioavailability and metabolism so the body can maximize curcumin’s potential. (1)
What is Bioavailability (Absorption)?
We’ve made a couple of references to bioavailability so far, but what exactly does it mean? In pharmacology, bioavailability refers to the fraction of an administered dosage that enters the bloodstream, reaching what is known as systemic circulation. In layman’s terms, it means “absorption.” (2)
The branch of pharmacology describing the movement of drugs within the body (such as its bioavailability) is known as pharmacokinetics. Besides absorption, this branch also studies the metabolism, distribution, and excretion of a drug.
In other words, pharmacokinetics studies the entire process of administering a drug or supplement, monitoring its effect on the body, and observing how it leaves the body. (3)
What is Black Pepper Extract (Piperine)?
Piperine and black pepper are similar, but not the same. Piperine is the alkaloid extracted from black pepper and is responsible for its strong flavor and pungent smell. This extract was discovered in 1819, isolated from the Piper nigrum plant. (4)
There are several benefits in using black pepper as a standalone supplement, including reducing oxidative stress, improving Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and lowering cholesterol levels. Piperine may also help treat cancer and reduce appetite to promote weight loss.
What is BioPerine?
The trademarked version of piperine that you’ll see listed on the best turmeric supplement fact panels is called BioPerine, manufactured by Sabinsa Corporation. Directly on their website, they reference a study that increased curcumin’s absorption by 20 times using a 2,000 mg dose of curcumin with only 20 mg of BioPerine. (7)
This result is just one study of many. In this article, we’ll discuss the science and research surrounding piperine’s ability to enhance turmeric absorption. We will also cover breakthroughs identifying alternative methods to make curcumin more bioavailable.
Curcumin with Piperine: Can Black Pepper Enhance Turmeric Absorption?
The first study we’ll look at is the same one referenced on Sabinsa Corporation’s website regarding BioPerine. However, there are many additional details worth noting, according to the study’s full abstract.
The poor bioavailability of turmeric is due to its quick metabolism in the intestinal wall and liver, as well as its rapid systemic elimination. This trial sought to test if absorption could be enhanced using both human volunteers and rats. The results indicated that:
- With curcumin and piperine administration in rats, bioavailability improved by 154%
- In human subjects using piperine, bioavailability increased by 2,000%
When human volunteers consumed 2,000 mg of curcumin alone, serum levels were nearly undetectable or extremely low. By adding 20 mg of piperine, serum concentration, and the extent of turmeric absorption increased significantly. Additionally, there were no adverse side effects in any of the subjects. (8)
Animal studies in the past suggested that the oral bioavailability of turmeric by itself may be as low as 1%. But what makes black pepper extract so unique, and what is the mechanism of action?
Piperine binds to several sites on the enzymes responsible for increasing the solubility of curcumin. It also intercalates with curcumin to form a hydrogen-bonded complex. Piperine has shown an ability to stimulate gut amino acid transporters and inhibit drug metabolism, which delays its elimination from cells.
Other Ways to Improve Turmeric Absorption
Another study tested the absorption of curcuminoids with multiple formulations. Although none of them contained black pepper extract, the study highlights the importance of enhancing absorption by adding other compounds.
The trial analyzed the following curcuminoid formulas compared to the standardized curcumin extract with no bioavailability enhancers added. The researchers measured curcuminoids appearance in the blood following administration.
- Curcumin phytosome (CP) – 9-fold increase in absorption
- Volatile oils of turmeric rhizome (CTR) – 3-fold increase in absorption
- Curcumin with a combination of cellulosic derivatives, natural antioxidants, and hydrophilic carrier (CHC) – 9-fold increase in absorption
The study’s outcome demonstrates that, even though piperine is the preferred bioavailability enhancer for turmeric, other combinations can enhance absorption as well. (11)
Further research reviewed different delivery methods of turmeric and their effect on uptake. This trial contained 13 women and 10 men, consuming 500 mg of curcumin orally. The supplementation of turmeric was done randomly using either native powder, liquid micelles, or micronized powder.
The blood and urine samples collected after 24 hours revealed that micronized curcumin saw a 9-fold improvement in bioavailability. The liquid micellar curcumin saw a massive 185-fold increase in absorption. In addition to adding BioPerine to a turmeric formula, this study reveals the excellent potential of alternative delivery methods. (12)
A rat study tested a curcumin–phospholipid complex to see if there were any notable differences in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. The results showed that the addition of phospholipids helped maintain higher concentrations of curcumin in rat serum for a more extended period. (13)
Turmeric and Black Pepper Ratio
The most reliable study on the subject used a 2,000 mg dosage of curcumin to a 20 mg dose of piperine. This ratio of turmeric to black pepper resolves to 100:1.
Although we don’t have a ton of studies testing various ratios, a significant portion of human trials are now using BioPerine in their research. The results have been wildly successful in a wide range of ailments, suggesting that curcumin’s benefits improve significantly with the simple addition of piperine.
Final Thoughts on Turmeric Curcumin with BioPerine
Does black pepper extract increase turmeric absorption? The answer is a resounding, yes. The main issue with curcumin has always been its poor bioavailability. After all, if your body can’t use it, what’s the point?
While there are other methods to increase absorption, such as liquid delivery or the addition of phospholipids, these approaches are not yet mainstream. Perhaps this will change in the future.
- Difference between turmeric vs. curcumin.
For now, make sure your turmeric supplement has piperine, preferably in the form of BioPerine. This combination of turmeric with black pepper will give you the best results and maximum absorption. (14)