Can a curcumin ingredient help consumers tolerate iron supplements? Natural Products Expo West 2022 report


In a new study, researchers investigated whether the ingredient HydroCurc could help reduce the systemic inflammation and gastrointestinal side effects associated with iron supplementation.

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Iron is a dietary supplement that can be notoriously hard to stomach due to common side effects such as constipation, diarrhea, bowel inflammation, and black stools. For this reason, many people who start taking iron supplements eventually stop taking them. But co-administering iron with a highly dispersible curcumin ingredient, HydroCurc, may help improve absorption, according to a brand new study.

HydroCurc has been available from Gencor (Irvine, CA) to the market for several years. It combines curcumin and Pharmako Biotechnologies’ (Sydney) LipiSperse dispersion technology. LipiSperse helps improve the solubility of curcumin, which is otherwise not water soluble and therefore not well dispersed in liquid.

In the new double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study1 funded by Gencor and published in Nutrients, researchers investigated whether HydroCurc could help reduce the systemic inflammation and gastrointestinal side effects associated with iron supplementation.

The study included 155 healthy adult subjects who were given, for 42 days, either 1) ferrous sulfate and a curcumin placebo, 2) ferrous sulfate (with a low 18-mg elemental dose of iron) plus a curcumin placebo, 3) ferrous sulfate (with a low 18-mg elemental dose of iron) plus HydroCurc, 4) ferrous sulfate (with a higher 65-mg elemental dose of iron) and a curcumin placebo, and 5) ferrous sulfate (with a higher 65-mg elemental dose of iron) and HydroCurc. Blood samples were taken from subjects at baseline (day 1), the midpoint (day 21), and study conclusion (day 42). Subjects also completed questionnaires.

The results showed a significant reduction in inflammatory biomarkers IL-6 and TNF-alpha in the subjects taking high-dose of iron plus HydroCurc, suggesting a reduction in systemic inflammation. (Curcumin is known for its anti-inflammatory properties.) These subjects also experienced a reduction in darkened stools.

These results are not only important for the many people suffering iron deficiency—which the researchers call “the most prevalent nutritional deficiency affecting around a third of the global population”—but it also dispels a key myth that previously supposed that curcumin actually impedes iron absorption.

Based on a very small body of evidence done years ago (amounting to one animal study and a one-patient human study), “It was a commonly held belief in the industry that polyphenols like curcumin impair iron absorption,” explained R.V. Venktatesh, Gencor’s managing director, at Expo West. In fact, he said, curcumin chelates free iron (which is the unwanted iron), keeping the iron from breaking down and being deposited in undesirable areas of the body like the kidneys where it can cause inflammation and oxidative stress. Unfortunately, the fact that curcumin chelates iron was widely interpreted to mean that “it just collects iron and throws it out and impairs absorption,” Venkatesh said.

The new Nutrients study proves otherwise. “Our study demonstrated that curcumin did not impair the absorption,” he said. “It helped with absorption. There was even a slight increase in absorption.” HydroCurc also helped prevent the unwanted free iron from accumulating in unwanted areas of the body, he added.

Ferrous sulfate is the most common form of iron sold in the supplements industry because it is the most absorbed form of iron; however, it often breaks down in the gut, causing maximum side effects. This study showed that HydroCurc “helped iron absorption and takes away all the unwanted aspects of iron and clears free iron from the system, so that whatever iron is needed by the body is getting where it needs to be, and whatever is unwanted is thrown out,” Venkatesh said. He added: “This is groundbreaking.”

By helping consumers better tolerate their iron supplements, HydroCurc may encourage them to stick with their iron-supplementation regimen that’s essential especially for those who are iron deficient. Iron deficiency is experienced by iron-deficient adults, pregnant women, in athletes who lose some iron after they exercise, and especially the global female population, 60% of which is anemic, the company said.

“All iron causes trouble when it’s absorbed,” said Eric Meppem, cofounder and commercial director of Pharmako Biotechnologies. “It has this oxidative effect. The problem then is most people who need iron often have trouble when they take [an iron supplement], whether it’s stomach cramping, darkened stools, etc., which means compliance can be bad. And if someone is anemic and has really low iron levels, it’s hard—they have low energy and can have other health implications as well.” He adds that even if some forms of iron are better absorbed than others, they are still not that well absorbed. “So, this is a real issue.”

By adding HydroCurc, consumers can simultaneously reap the other therapeutic benefits that curcumin provides. “HydroCurc with Pharmako Biotechnologies’ LipiSperse technology helps the curcumin to be absorbed, which helps the beneficial effects of curcumin, plus ensures that iron is absorbed, the unwanted side effects of iron are mitigated, and overall health is improved,” Meppem said.


  1. Lorinczova HT et al. “Co-administration of iron and bioavailable curcumin reduces levels of systemic markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in a placebo-controlled randomized study.” Nutrients. Published online February 8, 2022.
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