The majority of today’s research and common knowledge about turmeric and health are linked back to curcumin. Although curcumin is one of the active ingredients in turmeric, it is not the only one. Turmeric essential or volatile oils are a less commonly known source of health benefits that are often excluded or overlooked, and likewise not taken advantage of in horse health. Many horses have benefited from the daily use of curcumin, due to known abilities to promote a healthy inflammatory process, but could turmeric oils add even more to the equation. Is there more to these oils that we do not know? Could a combination of curcumin and turmeric oils impact your horse’s health on a higher level?
Turmeric is the main root or plant structure from which curcumin is extracted. Likely, more horse owners are familiar with the usage or term curcumin, than they are turmeric for various reasons. Curcumin makes up approximately 2-5% of turmeric, so for every gram of turmeric there is roughly 20-50 mg of Curcumin. Most curcumin supplements utilize a 95% concentrated extract, which is composed of curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin. I have discussed the benefits of curcumin and the horse in another article.
While past research has led us to believe that curcumin is likely responsible for most of the health-related benefits of turmeric, more recent research is indicating that the curcumin-free components, including essential or volatile oils, may provide even more benefit. (1)
Turmeric oil, also referred to as essential oil or volatile oils, make up about 1.5-5% of dry weight turmeric powder. These oils contain many active compounds, but the most commonly referred to ones include ar-tumerone, curlone, and ar-curcumene. (1,2) These compounds, present within the turmeric oils may provide significant benefit when it comes to health and your horse. Sadly, they are often overlooked in the abilities, due to the substantial overwhelming research of curcumin taking the spotlight.
Turmeric essential or volatile oils are a part of our daily horse rehabilitation regimen, so why should you potentially consider them in yours? Let’s check it out!
Curcumin, Turmeric, Oils and Your Horse
Curcumin is by far the most heavily researched component of turmeric, demonstrating known anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer capabilities in many studies. Many horse owners have used curcumin to variable degrees of success for a range of conditions from joint issues to allergic and gut related conditions. However, there have always been lingering concerns over absorption and bioavailability of curcumin, which may or may not really be a problem when we look at it. Curcumin absorption and related concerns were discussed in another article. The bottom line there is that despite absorption concerns, curcumin appears to be demonstrating most of its medicinal abilities at the level of the gut, which then impacts the rest of the body. This may infer that blood levels are not as important as we once thought. This is likely happening in the horse, just the same as it is in humans and rodent studies.
In our Cur-OST equine formulas, we have relied heavily upon a patented version of curcumin called BCM-95®, which combines a concentrated curcumin extract with volatile oils from the turmeric root. This is a unique formulation and studies have concluded that this BCM-95® version has higher levels of absorption when compared to curcumin alone or curcumin combined with black pepper (bioperine) or other ‘enhancers‘. These natural volatile oils appear to enhance the absorption of curcumin, however, even then blood levels are lower than desired, but clinical results appear to be greater. This takes us back to the ‘gut’ effect of curcumin and raises the point regarding the essential or volatile oils and if they are adding benefit to the equation outside of absorption related issues?
More recent research is coming out regarding the ‘curcumin-free’ compounds present in the turmeric root and if they do indeed provide clinical health benefits, which may be relevant to your horse additionally. When it comes to bioavailability and absorption concerns of curcumin, some research has indicated that turmeric supplementation compared to curcumin supplementation may yield better results regarding impact on pro-inflammatory gene expression. The general thoughts are that using turmeric or the curcumin-precursor form, may help to negate the rapid metabolism and excretion of curcumin from the body.(3)
Overall, the bioavailability of turmeric is far different than curcumin, which may provide even better clinical benefits when it comes to your horse. But, looking at these studies, one notes that the volume of turmeric powder utilized is quite high compared to curcumin, which could pose problems. However, we need to ask why the difference between the turmeric and curcumin when it comes to absorption?
There are many ‘active’ compounds present in turmeric, as the whole-plant, with curcumin being just one of them. One area that cannot be ignored are the essential or volatile oils present within the plant or herb. Considering that curcumin is fat-soluble, it makes sense that the inclusion of the oils or fats naturally in the turmeric plant automatically enhance absorption. That is nature at it’s best, and when we ignore nature and the principles put in place, our results will be inferior.This may explain the absorption concerns with curcumin in research and clinical use, considering that most curcumin products exclude the essential or volatile oil component.
The turmeric essential or volatile oils may not just aid with natural absorption of the curcumin compounds, but these oils demonstrate marked anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities of their own. In many cases, these turmeric oil compounds exhibit effects different and separate from curcumin, regarding impact on inflammation and oxidative stress. This may offer a different approach and a more complete approach when combined with curcumin. Some of these turmeric components have been shown to be as potent if not more potent than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and some of them have also shown direct synergism with curcumin.(1) Many of these volatile or essential turmeric oils also demonstrate anti-bacterial properties. This provides added benefit for your horse on many levels, opening the door for not just oral use but topical applications.
Using Turmeric Oils and Curcumin to Impact your Horse
By far, when it comes to turmeric and the horse, curcumin is the most common form found and utilized. When used alone, curcumin may not produce the desired benefits you are seeking, which may be due to absorption concerns, potency, or dosage. Not all curcumin extracts are the same! This is a very expensive herb, when in pure form, and many horse owners will utilize cheap sources. Considering the current market price on curcumin, cheaper sources can only be that way due to dilution of the curcumin with other ingredients. This is not optimal, obviously.
The other two main issues are absorption and dosage. If used alone, curcumin may have a low level of absorption in your horse, and thus not produce the desired results. You have to remember that curcumin is fat soluble, and when used alone, the levels may not be high in the blood stream and the herb is quickly excreted from the body. This is one reason why we utilize BCM-95® patented curcumin in our Cur-OST formulas for horses. Our Cur-OST BCM-95® based formulas are very beneficial for the average horse owner and have been effective in our program for years. However, there are other options becoming available in our research.
Dosage is the final concern and due to the expense of the herb, many horse owners are using very low doses which are likely not producing much regarding clinical benefit. A starting dosage range for any horse can be between 5-10 grams, or 5,000-10,000 mg, once to twice daily. These are the dose ranges that are provided in the proprietary Cur-OST® formulas, which are in combination with other ‘like’ herbs to add synergism.
One area of focus for us over the past few months has been on the turmeric oleoresin, which contains a high level of turmeric oils in a concentrated form in addition to many components of turmeric, including curcumin. The turmeric oleoresin is naturally a thick, sticky semi-liquid substance left over after extraction of curcumin, and is very difficult to use clinically.
In working with a laboratory facility, we have turned this difficult to use substance into a more readily available powder for use in the horse. This powdered oleoresin extract contains upwards of 25% volatile oils and 14% curcuminoids, which is quite substantial. This allows us to take advantage of the benefits of whole turmeric, but in a concentrated form. When combined with a 95% curcumin extract, the turmeric oleoresin adds synergism not just from an absorption standpoint, but clinical efficacy. This is similar to the approach used with the BCM-95® extract, but potentially more cost effective and effective for the average horse owner.
Taking advantage of the turmeric oil abilities to impact the inflammatory process and control bacterial levels, the oils can be used topically on areas of the horse including the hooves, tendons, ligaments, and potentially minor wounds. In our most recent research using turmeric oils with jojoba oil on the hoof soles in the horse, we demonstrated a marked reduction in pathogenic bacteria including beta-hemolytic Streptococcus, which could prove helpful in managing conditions including thrush, white line conditions, and overall maintaining hoof health.
Our BCM-95® based Cur-OST equine formulas have proven very effective in our horse rehabilitation program, but in some instances, I have desired a higher degree of patient benefit. In our current horse rehabilitation program, considering the extreme degree of conditions that we encounter, two formulas take the forefront in our therapy programs at this current time. These two formulas help us to take advantage of the clinical and research supported benefits of not just curcumin, but other turmeric compounds including turmeric essential or volatile oils.
Turmeric Oils, Horse Health, and Final Thoughts
Curcumin is and can be a very effective herbal extract when used properly in the horse to help promote a healthy inflammatory process. This can benefit them on many levels from joints to allergies and gut-related conditions. There is no doubt to the effectiveness, but we need to consider other research and move forward in our progress to make this herb even more effective. This may include re-assessing the whole turmeric plant extract and the benefits present within it, possibly in combination with curcumin.
Turmeric essential or volatile oils are first and foremost one of the main compounds present within whole turmeric that are often ignored or overlooked. This simple fact may be the reason for our perceived poor absorption rates of curcumin alone. These oils offer tremendous potential regarding horse health for you on many levels. They should be included as part of every curcumin based therapy program in the horse for optimal results.
Author: Tom Schell, D.V.M., CVCH, CHN
- Aggarwal, BB et al. Curcumin free turmeric exhibits antiinflammatory and anticancer activities: Identification of novel components of turmeric. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2013, 57, 1529-1542.
- Vijayastelter, B et al. An evaluation of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-nociceptive activities of essential oil from Curcuma longa. Ind J Pharm. 2011. Sept-Oct; 43(5):526-531
- Martin, R et al. Effect on pro-inflammatory and antioxidant genes and bioavailable distribution of whole turmeric vs curcumin. Food Chem Toxicol. 2012. Feb;50(2):227-231.