Soon after adiponectin was discovered in 1994, research into this key metabolic messenger chemical fast grew into a flood.
The body secretes adiponectin to regulate storage of calories, typically in fat cells located under your belly skin.
Adiponectin also regulates our cells’ sensitivity to insulin, which governs their ability to absorb blood sugar (glucose) created from foods. (Reduced insulin sensitivity — also called insulin resistance — promotes and typically precedes diabetes.)
Higher adiponectin levels are linked to better insulin sensitivity and healthier blood fat/cholesterol profiles — which is probably a major reason why higher levels are also linked to reduced risks for obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Further, higher levels of adiponectin are also linked to a reduced risk for metabolic syndrome or MetS, which is defined as having three or more of these six conditions:
This growing body of evidence has prompted research into the viability of using people's adiponectin levels to help predict their risk for diabetes and heart disease — and into whether and how we can safely stimulate higher body levels of adiponectin.
Three evidence reviews agree that curcumin lifts adiponectin levels
Curcumin is the most powerfully beneficial antioxidant of the three “curcuminoid” compounds in turmeric, and curcumin supplements typically contain all three.
There’s good evidence that curcumin promotes metabolic, brain, immune, and cardiovascular health, partly through its proven anti-inflammatory powers.
(Note: Curcumin is very poorly absorbed, unless steps are taken to fix that problem: for more on that, see “Not all curcumin is created equal”, below.)
The results of three recent evidence reviews suggest that supplemental curcumin may help keep adiponectin levels at higher, healthier levels — an effect that may explain some of curcumin’s apparent anti-inflammatory effects and its links to better metabolic health.
Study #1: British-Iranian review links curcumin to higher, healthier adiponectin levels
Scientists from Britain’s Coventry University and Iran’s Tehran University of Medical Sciences analyzed data from six randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials involving 652 people (Clark CCT et al 2019).
Their analysis showed that — compared with people who received placebo pills — people who received curcumin supplements enjoyed significantly higher levels of adiponectin within 10 weeks.
Based on the known benefits of higher adiponectin levels and the results of their evidence review, they made a reasonable recommendation: “… owing to its safety and beneficial effects ... and results of the present meta-analysis, curcumin may be suggested as a routine supplement for patients with metabolic syndrome, and other metabolic disorders.”
Study #2: International team’s evidence review links curcumin to higher adiponectin levels
Researchers from the United States, Italy, Mexico, and Iran analyzed data from five randomized clinical trials involving 686 people (Simental-Mendía LE et al. 2019).
They concluded that supplemental curcumin raised adiponectin levels significantly, and that this may explain part of curcumin’s anti-inflammatory activity.
Study #3: Separate Iranian evidence review affirms curcumin’s adiponectin-raising power
Earlier this year, Iranian scientists analyzed the evidence from 21 clinical trials that involved 1,604 volunteers who’d been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome or related disorders (Akbari M et al. 2019).
The analysis showed that supplemental curcumin significantly raised participants' adiponectin levels while reducing their body mass index (BMI), weight, waist-circumference ratio, and blood levels of leptin*.
*Leptin is a hormone produced by adipose (fatty) tissue, and abnormally high levels are linked to higher risks for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Not all curcumin is created equal
Curcumin in its "raw" state is very poorly absorbed.
As researchers put it a few years back, “The potential health benefits of curcumin are limited by its poor solubility, low absorption from the gut, rapid metabolism and rapid systemic elimination.”
Fortunately, the absorption problem has been overcome using several different approaches, but most methods of enhancing its absorption make curcumin very costly.
The simplest — and most cost-effective way by far — to enhance absorption is to combine curcumin with turmeric’s own “volatile” compounds, which appear to provide their own health benefits.
When you compare the cost-benefit ratios of various “enhanced” curcumin supplements, ones that combine curcumin with turmeric’s volatile oils — such as BCM-95 (also called CurcuGreen) — come out on top.
In addition, curcumin is better-absorbed when it's consumed along with fats, making it wise to take curcumin supplements with a meal that provides significant amounts of fat.
Or, you can take a well-absorbed curcumin supplement along with fish oil, whose omega-3s deliver overlapping and distinct benefits.