Curcumin: Natural Cancer Therapy

March 15, 2017
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

Curcumin is a wonder-nutrient derived from the turmeric root.  This health multi-tasker has been shown to reduce inflammation, boost brain function and it is increasingly recognized as a powerful cancer fighter.

Cancer is a notoriously tricky disease to tame…but here are some of the varieties that curcumin has been shown to fight best.

Types of cancer

There are more than 100 types of cancer, commonly named for the organs where they originate. More than 2,000 studies of curcumin show that it’s effective against at least these common cancers:

  • Breast
  • Prostate
  • Liver
  • Colon
  • Lung
  • Pancreas
  • Bowel
  • Stomach
  • Skin
  • Pancreas
  • Brain
  • Esophagus

How to measure curcumin’s effects

Let me begin by saying, at this point, curcumin is not a replacement for conventional cancer therapies. But it does a fantastic job of helping to prevent cancer…and it can help enhance the effectiveness of chemo and radiation therapy.

Like I said, cancer is a tricky beast. It’s always best to work with your doctors and explore all of your treatment options.

That said, without overstating the power of curcumin, let’s say there’s a “spectrum of efficacy,” a progression of different outcomes that curcumin can help achieve.

One of the most effective interventions is prevention—keeping cancer from taking hold and spreading.

Next is slowing the growth of a cancer already present.

Next is halting the growth.

After that, eliminating all signs and symptoms—curing the cancer so it never recurs.

Unfortunately, there are too many variables to predict a given outcome for each form of cancer. But let me share what we do know.

Curcumin 101

Let’s cover some curcumin basics—its uncanny ability to do the many things it does.

Curcumin can:

  • Reduce inflammation, the origin point of nearly every disease, including cancer
  • Help your body destroy cancer cells
  • Inhibit the transformation of cells from normal to tumorous
  • Inhibit the proliferation of tumor cells and their pathways to other organs—an antimetastatic property
  • Help prevent the development of additional blood supply necessary for tumor growth (angiogenesis)
  • Chemosensitize and radiosensitize cancer cells, making them more receptive to chemotherapy and radiation interventions

All of these properties come into play, one way or another, whenever curcumin meets cancer head on.

In a study of 80 men and women, for example, with colorectal, gastric, and breast cancer tumors being treated with chemotherapy, 40 were given curcumin and 40 were given a placebo for 8 weeks.

Results?

Significant benefits in the curcumin group.

The presence of the mysteriously named Substance P, a neurotransmitter that boosts tumor cells’ worst behavior—unchecked growth and invasion of nearby healthy tissues—was greatly reduced in the curcumin group, but unchanged in the placebo group.

And overall, the quality of Life (QoL) metric—how people reported how they feel— improved to a much greater extent in the curcumin group than the placebo group.

Sounds good to me, and it should sound good to you (and your doctor).

Breast cancer and curcumin

Taken as part of a daily health regimen long before any hint of cancer, curcumin is one of the best breast cancer preventions you could ask for. It helps keep healthy tissue healthy.  (That’s why I recommend all my patients use it, no matter what their health.)

Curcumin prevents the post-treatment recurrence of breast cancer that often follows chemo and radiation by slowing tumor growth.

It helps ease breast cancer symptoms—inflammation, redness, swelling, pain, and discharges.

It regulates the activity of a hormone that tells cells when they should self-destruct—the process called apoptosis.  This is an essential function—what makes a cancer a cancer is that it doesn’t stop replicating itself unless forced.

Curcumin also activates genes specific to breast tumors that cause cancer cell death, which leads to tumor death. In short, the cancer is eliminated—cured.

In one study, researchers looked at 60 mice with breast cancer and taking curcumin, and at 60 mice with breast cancer not taking curcumin. They found that there were fewer cases of progression to lung cancer among the curcumin-treated mice.

It’s also a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, preventing or quelling damage to breast tissue, heading off the likelihood of damaged tissue becoming cancerous.

In addition to its efficacy against breast cancer on its own, curcumin has those chemo- and radio-sensitizing properties I mentioned that protect healthy cells against damage from conventional interventions, making those therapies more effective and less harmful.

In one study, lab mice with breast cancer were divided into four groups:

  1. No treatment
  2. Treatment with curcumin
  3. Treatment with Taxol, a cancer drug
  4. Treatment with curcumin plus Taxol

In the curcumin-only group, cancer spread to the lungs of half the mice. In the curcumin/Taxol group, it spread to the lungs of 22 percent.

In the other groups, the outcome was miserable:

  • 75 percent of the Taxol-only mice developed lung tumors
  • In the no-treatment group, the cancer spread to the lungs of 95 percent of the mice

Lung cancer and curcumin

As I mentioned, cancers have sub-cancers. Curcumin’s anti-metastatic capabilities are especially important in fighting a virulent form of lung cancer called small cell lung cancer, which grows and spreads to other organs quickly. And, if not detected until it’s in full fury, it usually leads to death within 2–4 months.

Curcumin gets in small cell cancer’s way at every step.

It keeps individual small cell lung cancer cells from joining together to form tumors.

If the cells have already grown into small masses, curcumin inhibits their ability to adhere to each other as a larger mass.

If the mass has grown into a tumor, curcumin interferes with its ability to invade surrounding healthy tissues.

If the tumor has already spread into nearby healthy tissue, curcumin keeps the tumor from creating the separate blood supply it requires.

Small cell lung cancer cells respond well to chemotherapy and radiation, making them go-to interventions.  Curcumin’s ability to chemo-and radio-sensitize cancer cells, while protecting healthy cells from destruction, also makes it an invaluable partner.

Prostate cancer and curcumin

Curcumin is great news for men.  It offers protection against getting prostate cancer in the first place and control or reversal of existing prostate cancer.

All or most of the properties we’ve already covered work their wonders here also.

As with breast cancer, which shares several clinical similarities with prostate cancer, curcumin increased the number of dead cancer cells in living, lab-based cancer cells. And the higher the curcumin dose, the more dead cells.

To me, that says “This works.”

Other studies confirm that curcumin can play a positive preventive role, keeping random prostate cancer cells from massing together to form a tumor. If a tumor is already present, curcumin, as it does with other cancers, can keep it from spreading to other organs.

But curcumin can help even against full-blown prostate cancer that’s being treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Studies show that supplementing curcumin can alleviate the harsh side- and after-effects—the nausea, dizziness, pain, and so on—as well as protecting healthy cells that chemo and radiation take down along with cancer cells.

Indeed, as curcumin makes cancer cells more vulnerable to radiation and chemo, it means the intensity of those harsh treatments can be dialed down with no loss of efficacy.

If this isn’t enough to cheer about, curcumin comes with some welcome bonus benefits as it fights prostate cancer: less frequent, less urgent, and more complete urination—and improved sexual capabilities.

As with any changes in your diet, meds, or lifestyle, first consult with your doctor (and in this case, your wife).

Push back against pushback

As usual, the mainstream medical/FDA community, influenced by Big Pharma, expresses doubt and withholds approval of curcumin-based treatments. Big Pharma can’t make billions from a treatment that uses a safe, affordable substance that’s easy to grow in so many places.

Profit over patient.  Business as usual.

I see “More research is needed” far too often. More research is always great, but it’s not needed here.

To me, the research already available tells me that curcumin can spare millions of people the misery of cancer and its harsh conventional treatments—and save millions of lives.

Take 600 mg/day and make sure it’s specially formulated for enhanced absorption and bioavailability. That’s taking good care.

References

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