As director of London-based New Nutrition Business, Julian Mellentin has made a name for himself as a savvy analyst of the headlines sweeping the global health-and-wellness marketplace. And while that entails keeping an eye on the broad swath of functional-ingredient goings-on, sometimes a trend so crowds his viewfinder that he just can’t get it out of his sights.
Such may be the case with turmeric—which, by Mellentin’s reckoning, is well-nigh inescapable. “In Sydney and Melbourne,” he says, “you can order a turmeric latte in any city-center café, or buy a supermarket premix to take home.” In the States and Canada, he’s heard tales of dieticians instructing clients on the drink’s at-home preparation—should the turmeric bars and beverages for sale at local grocers not sate their cravings. And in London, Manchester, and Glasgow, he says, “You can now buy turmeric yogurt.” His conclusion: “Any company in the Western world that doesn’t have a product featuring turmeric in its new-product-development plans should think again. Turmeric is coming.”
In fact, it’s already here. When Innova Market Insights (Arnhem, The Netherlands) tallied recent food and beverage launches with a turmeric and/or curcumin health claim, it found the total grew by 79% globally from 2014 to 2015, with another 25% increase rolling in from 2015 to 2016, according to Lu Ann Williams, research manager at the firm.
Such numbers suggest descriptors like “meteoric,” “skyrocket,” and “phenomenon”—or, if you’re more cynically inclined, “bubble.” Which raises a reasonable question: With turmeric on such a tear, how long might its time in the sun last? And what, if anything, can brands do to keep the momentum going?
For a botanical whose history stretches back literally millennia, turmeric might seem an unlikely twenty-first-century sensation. Yet for three years running, it’s topped natural-channel ingredient sales, per the American Botanical Council (Austin, TX). As Stefan Gafner, PhD, the Council’s chief science officer, notes, mainstream awareness is finally catching up to what natural shoppers have long known.
“Interest in turmeric started a while ago,” he says, “but it often takes time for an ingredient to reach the critical mass of research data to attract attention.” And research data increasingly implicates turmeric in everything from weight management, cardiovascular support, and enhanced cognition to reduced gastrointestinal distress and joint pain.
But the latest studies focus less on turmeric itself than on a class of compounds called curcuminoids, which Shavon Jackson-Michel, ND, scientific and medical affairs, DolCas Biotech (Landing, NJ), labels turmeric’s “star constituents,” whose health-giving properties “are collectively important in any chronic-disease approach.”
The best known of these curcuminoids is curcumin, and though scientists once ascribed to it “the vast array” of turmeric’s benefits, says Shaheen Majeed, marketing director, Sabinsa (East Windsor, NJ), following isolation of turmeric’s other curcuminoid constituents—namely, demethoxycurcumin (DMC) and bisdemethoxycurcumin (BDMC)—“several studies have demonstrated wide clinical applications for all three” as a group.
Scratching the Surface
So how do curcuminoids in general and curcumin in particular work? As Cheryl Myers, head of scientific affairs and education for EuroPharma (Green Bay, WI), explains, “Curcumin fights two major causes of disease”: inflammation and oxidation. “That means it naturally stops tumor formation, neural degeneration, muscle and arthritis pain, and many other conditions,” she says. “While there’s still much research to be done, a casual glance at curcumin’s many abilities shows why it’s so popular.”
But curcumin and its siblings aren’t all turmeric has going for it. The root’s essential oils, known as turmerones, assist curcuminoids’ transport and absorption into cells and synergistically enhance their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action. In so doing, DolCas’s Jackson-Michel says, they diversify turmeric’s “healing profile.”
The upshot is that turmeric’s full suite of benefits “is more fully realized in the presence of turmerones,” she concludes. “But still, we believe there’s yet more to uncover. With more than 230 constituents known to exist in this rhizome, even these two highly active groups might just scratch the surface of the botanical’s therapeutic use.”
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