Monday, June 25, 2007

Curcumin and Nanotechnology

"Colloidal silicon dioxide" is an ingredient in the AFI brand of curcumin with bioperine. So what, silicon dioxide is sand. But a quick search shows that colloidal, in this context, means that this is sand with particle sizes of less than 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, which is one millionth of a millimeter. 100 nanometers is considerably shorter than the wavelength of visible light, and only one twenty-fifth the size of a human red blood cell. This is so tiny that it is well within the realm of nanotechnology. Is that a problem?

Maybe so. Three recent press releases by Consumer Reports (here, here, and here) suggest that the jury is still out on nanoparticles for human use. Other consumer groups have also issued warnings. The FDA has not taken a position, nor does it require that manufacturers describe their nanotechnology ingredients as such. Therefore, nanosized colloidal silicon dioxide may be described on the label as "silicon dioxide" or simply "silica."

Well it's just sand, don't we all eat a peck of dirt? Probably so, but everyone who discusses nanotechnology agrees that the properties of materials change when particle size becomes so extremely small. To quote Consumer Reports, "carbon becomes 100 times stronger than steel, aluminum turns highly explosive, and gold melts." In fact, particles this tiny may be able to traverse cell walls and enter cells, possibly affecting DNA or inducing cell death. We already know that breathing silica dust can trigger an often-fatal disease called silicosis. What about ingesting it? One expert has said that nanotechnology has the potential for health risks similar to those of asbestos.

I'm as far from expert as you can get on nanotechnology and how it may affect human cells. But I'm pretty sure that nanoparticles can't hurt me if I don't consume them, breathe them, or spread them on my skin.

Personally, I'm going to stay away from supplements, including curcumin, with ingredient lists that include silicon dioxide or silica. Another likely nano-material is titanium dioxide, used as a whitening pigment and also to be avoided. No doubt there are more. Technology is moving faster than our overwhelmed and underfunded FDA is able to react, so we have to look out for ourselves.

Your comments are invited, pro or con.

Spinach pecan salad
Organic baby spinach, organic apples in key lime juice, blue cheese, organic pecans marinated in pomegranite juice and roasted, all in a pretty new 79-cent glass salad bowl from Ikea. Estimated Weight Watchers points = 3.


  1. Very interesting, Don. Well, now I know WHO to ask when I run into trouble with my research!
    ;-) Thanks for this bit of information! Margaret, Florence, Italy

  2. Good points STILL on the unknown behavior of nano-particles.

    Got here from Margaret's blog where I'm looking to purchase some curcumin in bulk. it seems to have some interesting effects on mouse models of some types of CMT.

  3. I've just started taking a curcumin from Solal (a south african company) that uses NovaSOL- a nanotechnology which apparently increases bioavailability by x185. Have you heard anything more about nanotech? It worries me that I might be adding to my problems by taking this product. Thanks for any advice on this- subsequent to your original post.

  4. Don,

    I'm confused you stated to stay away from silicon dioxide, but take Doctors Best C3 Complex, which list silicon dioxide as an ingredient - Am I missing something here!! Thanks for any help!

  5. You are correct about that Lisa. That was ten years ago, and I had a hard time finding supplements with no silicon dioxide. I try to avoid it when possible, but there are other features of each supplement that I watch for too, and sometimes I just choose to ignore the silicon dioxide.