Curcumin: Can it Really Prevent Cancer?
Centuries ago, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, observed that we should “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Today, those words are truer than ever, especially when it comes to curcumin, an extract derived from the spice turmeric. As we become increasingly aware of conventional medicine’s limits when it comes to healing many conditions, safe, natural remedies like curcumin have become rising stars, providing relief from chronic disorders that frustrate traditional methods.
Asian and Far Eastern healers have treasured turmeric for centuries, using it to treat a wide range of ailments, including digestive and liver disorders. Since then, thousands of studies have shown that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, supports good overall health, eases symptoms of a long list of conditions, and minimizes the risk of developing serious ailments, such as cancer, inflammation and heart disease.
In fact, current research is proving that curcumin deserves a special place in medicine. Because to tell you the truth, I have never been as impressed with the healing abilities of any substance as I am by curcumin, which has been shown to work as an:
- Antioxidant, 5 to 8 times more powerful than vitamins C and E when it comes to combatting damaging free radicals linked to aging and many health disorders;
- Anti-inflammatory, easing conditions such as arthritis, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), and cystitis (bladder inflammation);
- Anti-bacterial infection fighter;
- Anti-tumor agent, in test tubes and real life;
- Anti-beta amyloid substance, helping protect the brain from the plaque involved in Alzheimer’s.
In addition, curcumin enhances circulation, eases digestion, and improves memory. Honestly, I can’t think of any other supplement or medication that can claim all these benefits. And if that’s not enough, here’s a bonus feature – minimal to no side effects. Instead of creating a whole new set of symptoms requiring additional drugs to treat, as so many pharmaceutical medications do, curcumin supplements rarely cause more than an occasional upset stomach in a very small number of individuals.
Given curcumin’s “too good to be true” list of benefits, I understand why some people may be skeptical. But once you see how powerful curcumin is at treating difficult conditions, I think you’ll be as impressed as I am. Here are details on some of the most remarkable curcumin studies:
With cancer now affecting approximately 1 out of every 2 Americans, there is clearly an urgent need for something more effective than conventional medicine offers. Recent research has demonstrated that curcumin counteracts a number of the initial steps in the development of cancer, including the spread of cancer cells (metastasis) and mechanisms that allow tumors to grow. And a recent review of more than 700 clinical trials involving curcumin and cancer found curcumin to be as effective as some pharmaceutical drugs in treating cancers of the prostate, colon, breast, liver, esophagus, and mouth.
Currently, researchers are testing curcumin’s effectiveness against cancer of the breast, prostate, head and neck, respiratory tract, colon, pancreas, and multiple myeloma. Many of these studies are preliminary and still at the animal stage, but encouraging human trials are also ongoing.
At Cancer Center for Hope, the cancer clinic where I am medical director, I have used intravenous (IV) curcumin on several patients with very encouraging results. In one instance, for example, I used IV curcumin with a patient I’ll call Debra, who had suffered from a rectal tumor for five years. The tumor extended into her colon, causing a great deal of pain and uncomfortable bowel movements. After just six treatments with intravenous curcumin, her pain dramatically diminished and her bowel movements became more normal. In another case, Richard, a patient with tongue cancer experienced tremendous decrease in the swelling after only one treatment.
This work is just getting underway, so I’ll be reporting more details at a later date. For now, I believe I’m the only doctor in the U.S. currently offering curcumin intravenously. This method has the same benefits as taking supplements orally, but the curcumin bypasses the stomach, so 100% of it is absorbed, and it works better and more quickly. Using the IV method also allows me to give higher doses than could be taken orally. And it’s not just appropriate for cancer; any inflammatory condition could benefit from intravenous curcumin.
Other studies involving curcumin and cancer have shown that it:
- Reduces urinary tract side effects that are common in prostate cancer patients undergoing radiation;
- Enhances the effectiveness of certain types of chemotherapy when used as a pre-treatment;
- Interferes with development of stem cells, “baby” cancer cells that are not affected by traditional chemotherapy;
- Interrupts increases in NF-kappa-b, an inflammation regulator responsible for initiating the cancer cascade, the 12-year-long process that creates the disease.
There are times when inflammation can save your life. For example, you’ve probably noticed that if you accidentally cut your finger the area turns red and swells a little. That’s because your body is sending protective white blood cells to the scene of the injury, where they can do battle with bacteria and other invaders. As the wound heals, the redness and swelling disappear and the skin over the wound closes, leaving you as good as new. This is how short-term, or acute, inflammation works.
There is another scenario involving inflammation, though, and it doesn’t have such a happy ending. Long-term inflammation throughout your body is very common these days, brought on by things like a poor diet, bad fats, and environmental toxins. Chronic inflammation operates the same way as the cut finger example above, except that chronic inflammation can affect your entire body, simmering quietly in the background as it damages cells and tissues.
Even worse, you probably aren’t aware of inflammation because it operates under the radar. Generally, doctors don’t talk about inflammation itself, but rather about the conditions it causes, such as arthritis, gastritis, bursitis, and so on. (Any medical condition ending in “-itis” involves inflammation.) So if you’ve been diagnosed with one of these disorders, you’re living with chronic inflammation. Another way to determine if inflammation is a problem for you is by asking your physician for a CRP (C-reactive protein) test, which simply measures a marker for inflammation in your blood, which puts you at increased risk of heart disease. Personally, I take curcumin every day, not because I have widespread inflammation, but because I don’t want to develop the condition. So far, that pre-emptive approach is working well for me.
In conventional medicine, over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers are used to keep patients with chronic inflammation comfortable, but little or nothing is done to treat the source of the problem. Unfortunately, a steady diet of pain relievers can take a serious toll on your body. Side effects of non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), a category that includes everything from aspirin to COX-2 inhibitors such as Celebrex, can range from unpleasant (irritated stomach lining) to life threatening (liver damage and internal bleeding).
Treating inflammation with curcumin, however, avoids all these risks. For example, studies have repeatedly shown that curcumin relieves joint pain from arthritis just as well as NSAIDs or the expensive, dangerous injectable drugs that now carry the FDA’s “black label” warnings. And again, curcumin’s pain relief is free of uncomfortable and even dangerous side effects that are common among more than half of the individuals taking prescription painkillers.
Using curcumin to calm inflammation throughout your body is one of the best things you can do to maintain a healthy heart. But be aware that curcumin does even more than reduce inflammation. A recent animal study, for example, found that curcumin protected heart functions and strengthened the body’s own internal repair system following a heart attack. In addition, curcumin can reduce levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, two major benefits for your heart and circulatory system.
As the years go by, your bodily functions and immune system tend to slow down. Hard-working, protective cells known as macrophages find it harder and harder to fight off damaging microbes and perform other duties related to good health. As a result, the likelihood of developing a degenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s, increases.
Although the exact cause of Alzheimer’s remains a mystery, one current theory holds that aging macrophages simply can’t protect brain nerve cells from the buildup of a toxic substance known as beta-amyloid. Enter curcumin and studies showing that it enhances memory and reduces other age-related brain malfunctions. These results are from animal studies, and need to be verified with human clinical trials, but it’s an encouraging beginning, especially considering that countries like India, where turmeric is a common ingredient in food, have some of the lowest levels of Alzheimer’s in the world.
There is one issue with curcumin supplements you should be aware of, and that is absorbability. On its own, curcumin is difficult to absorb. So look for a high quality curcumin formulation that has been developed to be highly bioavailable. I recommend taking 500 mg of curcumin one to three times daily, preferably with food. If you are currently taking blood-thinning prescription medications, such as Plavix or warfarin (sold under the brand name for Coumadin) or the newest one, Pradaxa, please consult your physician before taking curcumin, as the combination of drugs and curcumin may cause excessive blood thinning.
One last point: If you try curcumin, I think you’ll be pleased to discover that many of the benefits begin just days after you start the supplements. My patients tell me that they notice improved brain functions, increased mobility with less pain, higher energy levels, and smoother digestion almost immediately. In addition, as levels of curcumin in the body increase, they find they need less prescription or over-the-counter medication, making it a smart choice for so many of today’s ongoing health issues.
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: February 11, 2014