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Is curcumin a natural cancer treatment?

           Curcumin

"No cancer has been found that is not affected by curcumin"  (MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas)

Curcumin has many serious fans in the fight to beat cancer - UCLA, the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Emory School of Medicine and Tufts to name but four important American Cancer Centers. Why? It is a powerful antioxidant that is also anti-viral and anti-bacterial; plus it seems to have great potential to fight cancer, especially colorectal cancer. All people wishing to build an anti-cancer programme should think seriously about including curcumin within it.

The anti-cancer action of curcumin (turmeric):

        * Importantly, the spice can stop the action of the enzyme COX-2 known to produce negative, inflammation causing localised enzymes (eicosanoids). Such inflammation is a known precursor to cancer.

        * It has also been shown to inhibit vascular epithelial growth factors. Every tumour needs a blood supply - the growth factors build one, but curcumin seems to stop them.

        * It has been shown to ´re-awaken´ a key tumour suppressor gene. 

        * It has been shown to inhibit metastases.                

        * It has been shown to kill cancer cells (B lymphoma cells).

        * It prevents regrowth of cancer stem cells which lie at the heart of many tumours

More research is being reported every month!

For example, in the journal ´Genes and Nutrition´ (2011, 6(2) 93-108) the whole issue of ´Epigenetics´ was exposed. It used to be thought that your genes controlled all and a problem in a gene meant you were in someway ´doomed´. This theory has been disproven and replaced by one that shows genes are just your blueprint; these blueprints are controlled, activated or suppressed by the localised environment. So hormones can affect their action, as can natural compounds in food. And curcumin seems to affect gene expression significantly. Such ´signalling pathways´ have been shown to be affected by curcumin.

An example of this ´signalling pathway´ modification came in research from the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany in 2012 which showed that curcumin can inhibit the formation of metastases in both prostate and breast cancer.  Both cancers spread throughout the body through the release of chemical messengers, pro-inflammatory cytokines CXCL1 and CXCL2, but curcumin alters the expression of these two damaging proteins.

Next, Cheryl Myers (head of Scientific Affairs and Education for EuroPharma Inc.) refers to curcumin as ´the anti-cancer herb´ because of its success in stopping cancer formation, replication and spread. Research also shows that curcumin increases the activity of certain anti-cancer drugs whilst protecting healthy cells and organs. It has been proven to reduce systemic inflammation and oxidative stress.

And researchers from the Dept. of Natural Science at Middlesex University have shown that curcumin and chokeberry can work together to induce cancer cell death (apoptosis) and stop the spread of malignant cancer cells. Their report (in Oncology Reports) was for brain tumours. 

Dr Young S. Kim leading a team at the National Cancer Institute in America showed that curcumin was one of the natural compounds that could prevent cancer stem cells from re-growing and re-forming the cancer tumour. Her conclusion even suggested patients could supplement! 

The University of Missouri has shown curcumin can counter the dangerous effects of HRT and its link to breast cancer cause.  "The results of the study show that women could potentially take curcumin to protect themselves from developing progestin-accelerated tumors," said the lead researcher. Synthetic progestin increases VEGF a protein that helps form blood supplies to developing tumours. Curcumin inhibits VEGF and thus reduces the potential of breast cancer to grow.

The biggest fans seem to reside at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. From Cancer Watch April 2011 comes this note:

Professor Bharat Aggarwal Ph. D. in MD Andersons Department of Therapeutics has conducted a number of studies, for example showing that in pancreatic cancer patients having no chemotherapy, it reduced tumour size. He believes it is effective against many types of cancer because it suppresses angiogenesis (the growth of blood vessels essential to a tumour).

Indeed he goes further: "No cancer has been found, to my knowledge, which is not affected by curcumin," Aggarwal says. "The reason curcumin is so effective against cancer is that it hits not just a single target or cell signalling pathway but dozens of targets implicated in cancer."

It has also been shown to have a strong synergistic effect against cancer with resveratrol, and also with EGCG in green tea.

Taking a Curcumin supplement

Curcumin supplements provide curcumin in good amounts but curcumin is difficult is difficult to absorb. Absorption can be helped by piperine the active ingredient in black pepper. This also seems to enhance some of its actions.

According to the American Cancer Society, absorption of curcumin can be improved by mixing the supplement with a teaspoonful of olive oil and sprinkling the black pepper on it. Warning: Don´t spill it on your skin or clothes - it stains!

So is curcumin a cure for cancer? No, of course not. What is exciting the experts in cancer centres in America is that it can play a role against several of the steps in what is a multi-step cancer process. As such it would seem stupid to ignore it as a part of an Integrative or holistic cancer treatment programme.  


If you are already thinking of buying Curcumin, you might like to look at the Natural Selection shop. Do it by clicking here.

What are curcumin and turmeric?

Curcumin is the active ingredient of the Indian/Asian curry spice Turmeric.  To put this technically, curcumin is the principal curcuminoid in turmeric.  Curcuminoids are polyphenols.  Turmeric powder is ground from the root of a plant called Curcuma Longa, which is a member of the ginger family and is found throughout Southern Asia, even growing wild in the Himalayas.

This vivid yellow to brown spice was used, like many Asian spices and chillies, to hide the taste of stronger tasting meats and fish even those that might have gone a little off in such hot climates.  Like many such spices, it also performed a necessary and functional role it was a cleanser, a bacteria-killer in the stomach, protecting against tainted foods!

Wide activity

Curcumin first caught my attention when I read a research report on its ability to prevent the crossed wires of Alzheimer´s, through blocking a certain peptide forming.  Therapeutic doses seem able to prevent, and also reverse, early stages of the disease.  (My father had the disease, in case you wondered!).  As I started to do my homework, I found clinical trials for all manner of illnesses from cystic fibrosis to reduction of risk in stomach and colorectal cancers.

Curcumin is the most researched compound in medicine! And new research is coming thick and fast. You will find the latest in Cancer Watch

Curcumin/turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years as a cleanser of the body.  It appears to work at a number of levels:

1. It can inhibit unwanted bacterial action in the stomach and intestine:

For example (i) , University of Chicago researchers have shown it inhibits Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium known to be responsible for stomach ulcers and some stomach cancers.  In Ayurvedic medicine, curcumin was used in poultices for this same reason to kill unwanted bacteria.

2. It is a significant anti-inflammatory:

Arachidonic acid is a precursor/stimulator of the production of bad eicosancids (see our reviews of omega 3 and vitamin D) and thus to inflammation, which is itself a precursor to certain cancers.  Curcumin has been found to inhibit several of the pre-inflammatory enzymes (e.g. COX2 and iNOS) in vitro and in vivo with animals.  Japanese research suggests it works in much the same way as salicylin. (ii)

3. It boosts crucial cellular glutathione levels:

Glutathione is a crucial intracellular antioxidant, helping the cell maintain its correct oxygen levels and fight off the effects of stress hormones.  Research has shown that curcumin can prevent the action of an enzyme that limits glutathione production.

4. It is a powerful antioxidant:

Turmeric extract tested more potent than garlic, omega 3 and cat´s claw (devil´s claw) said German research. (iii)

5. It can help prevent liver damage

2010 research from St Louis has shown that it can turn off a protein called Leptin, which causes liver damage. It has also been shown to be capable of detoxifying the liver. Thus curcumin may be of help in keeping the liver healthy during chemotherapy cancer treatments.(vii)

6. It can prevent and even ´treat´ cancer:

As we have covered above, curcumin can suppress tumour initiation, promotion and metastasis.  Extensive research over the last 50 years has indicated it can prevent and treat cancer. The anti-cancer potential stems from its ability to control gene signalling, and affect a wide variety of tumour cells, down-regulate transcription factors, down-regulate enzymes such as COX-2 and other inflammatories, cytokines, chemokines, cell-surface adhesion molecules, down-regulate growth factors, etc., etc. (iv)

But, its not just MD Anderson that are fans:

Tufts have conducted research with breast cancer patients concluding that curcumin and isoflavanoids seem to inhibit the action of environmental oestrogens. (v)

UCLA have researched its potential with colorectal cancer (San Diego, Chauhen). And there are Clinical Trials underway (according to the Mayo Clinic to investigate curcumin as a way to prevent cancer in people with precancerous conditions, as a cancer treatment, and as a remedy for signs and symptoms caused by cancer treatments.

Kentucky University researchers report on its inhibition of B lymphoma cells. (vi)

Emory School of Medicine showed that it attacked Vascular Endothelial Growth Factors cutting the ability of tumours to generate their essential blood supply lines. Many drugs are being developed specifically to stop VEGF´s, but this common spice already does the job

Memorial Sloan-Kettering (New York) even offered that ´green tea spiced with curcumin was a double anti-cancer beater´!

There are a dozen or more studies where curcumin has caused cell death in cancer cells; and even more where it prevents tumours forming a blood supply.

However as always, some things seem too good to be true; and despite the euphoria of major hospitals in the USA, a few words of realism have to be added.

Firstly, much of the work original used cell cultures.  Increasingly studies use a variety of animals, and there have been human trials, even clinical trials, primarily with cervical cancer lesions and with gastrointestinal cancers.  So, although the biochemical knowledge is vast, the use of oral curcumin to prevent and treat cancer is still in its infancy.

Next, there is a problem maintaining effectiveness inside the cells; there are several studies that show oral consumption needs to be maintained in order to maintain blood and cellular levels.  But it is not as simple as curry every day!

Supplementation

Actually, a single curry meal delivers very small amounts of active curcumin, so you would have to maintain daily consumption.  Or you can supplement. (Research from Taiwan shows that even 8 gms per day for three months is safe.  In one UK clinical trial a variety of doses from 0.45 to 3.6 gms per day was used with colorectal cancer patients, all having no adverse effects.) As we said above piperine (from black pepper) seems to aid absorption and action.

Curcumin supplements may be heavily contaminated with everything from pesticides to other spices so you must choose a reliable supplier, ideally of curcuma longa. If you are thinking of buying Curcuma Longa you might like to look at the Natural Selection as they are based in the UK and they tend to have natural compounds that avoid pesticides. Click here. Alternatively in the USA you might like to go to the Natural News or Dr Mercola websites.

Counter indications

Some supplements contain piperine, supposedly to increase bio-availability.  This can interfere with certain drugs.

Curcumin can inhibit coagulation in vitro and so may be inadvisable if you are taking anti-coagulants.  It might increase the risk of bleeding.

It might also be advisable not to take it if you are pregnant or lactating.

          At last, the definitive, research-based book on how to build a diet to help beat cancer. Click here to read about it.

In summary

Clearly there is a huge enthusiasm, even expectation, overseas for curcumin, if not in British hospitals and oncology departments.  But the real issue is can you take enough of it orally to deliver it in adequate doses to your breast or prostate cells?  Certainly curcumin (curcuma longa) was seen to be an important herb in the natural and successful treatment of prostate cancer that we covered in Cancer Watch (icon 2006, issue 3 ).  We will just have to wait and see whether this longstanding Ayurvedic medicine will curry favour with the UK medical fraternity.

  (i) Magad et al, Anticancer Res 2002.  22(6C) 4179-81

  (ii) Vane: Nobel Prize 1982

  (iii) J Pharmacology 2003 55; 981-6

  (iv) Aggarwal et al Anticancer Res. 2003. 23; 363-98

  (v) Environ Health Perspective 1998; 106. 807-12

 (vi) Clin. Immun. 1999.  93; 152-61

 (vii) St Louis University 2010

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PLEASE NOTE:

Professor Aggarwal has been the subject of a number of ´blogs´ - some anonymous and from Europe - attacking his credibility and even alleging fraud in his research. MD Anderson are investigating. As a result we use only one MD Anderson study in the above report and that has been verified by a second research source.

People who read this article, also read:

Resveratrol: CLICK HERE to read

Grape Seed extract: CLICK HERE to read

Green Tea: CLICK HERE to read

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Please be clear: At CANCERactive we do not consider the above compound to be a cure for cancer, despite what the research says or experts doing the research may claim. The above, is an article on the compound from published research and expert opinion in the public domain. At CANCERactive we do not believe that any single compound (drug, vitamin, whatever) is a cure for cancer. We believe that people can significantly increase their personal odds of survival by building an Integrated Programme of treatments. Equally, cancer prevention is best practiced through a width of measures.


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