Curcumin, or turmeric, as a natural cancer treatment

Curcumin, or turmeric, as a natural cancer treatment

Curcumin is the main bioactive phenol derived from the turmeric root (curcuma longa), a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae); it is probably the most researched compound in health being known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties.  

"No cancer has been found, to my knowledge, that is not affected by curcumin".  (Professor Bharat Aggarwal, Biochemist, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas). 

Curcumin has many serious fans in the fight to beat cancer - Professors at 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 and anti-inflammatory compound that is also anti-viral, anti-microbial and anti-bacterial. It has great potential to fight cancer in a number of ways and below we list those. 

Curcumin is the most researched anti-cancer compound - it can be used as a complementary and integrative therapy or as an alternative cancer therapy. It protects healthy cells from chemotherapy damage, but attacks cancer cells and makes many chemotherapy drugs actually work better. It is already used in some American hospitals as a Complementary and Integrative (CIM) medicine against colorectal cancer after operations. 

It can even work on its own against cancer. Doses of 3.2 gm a day have been shown to be very effective at managing smouldering Multiple Myeloma. We have had two Personal Prescription patients at stage 4, grade 4 use 8 gm of turmeric alongside Hyperbaric Oxygen with quite staggering results. We know of a number of others who have used this 'formula' with success.

Go to: Hyperbaric Oxygen and curcumin stabilises woman's Grade 4, Stage 4 cancer

All people wishing to build an anti-cancer programme should think seriously about including at least a gram a day of curcumin within it.

What’s the difference between turmeric and curcumin?

Cucumin is between 2 and 5% of the turmeric root. It is a curcuminoid and this is a polyphenol. There are approximately 500 polyphenols existing in nature all known for their health benefits.

Go to: Polyphenols - Top foods for Health 

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 off in such hot climates.  Like many such spices, it also performed a necessary and functional role - it was a cleanser and a pathogen-killer in the stomach and gut, protecting against such tainted foods!

The next issue is absorption: Curcumin and turmeric supplements provide good amounts but both are difficult to absorb into the blood stream from the gut. Absorption can be helped particularly by fats and oils forming 'liposomes' (fat bubbles) around the molecules which help take the molecule of turmeric or cucumin across the gut wall.  Piperine, the active ingredient in black pepper also helps but also piperine greatly amplifies the actions of curcumin.

Golden Turmeric

Many people who practice Ayurvedic medicine will know that you peel and dry the root then powder it. Put the powder into a pot, add extra virgin olive oil and black pepper and mix to a paste. Keep it in the 'fridge. This is Golden Turmeric and renowned for its health-giving properties. 

The American Cancer Society urges people to make Golden Turmeric and then take a tablespoon of it, add more oil, and drink.

Aggarwal recommended 3.2 gm per day - that’s the same level as is used to hold smouldering Multiple Myeloma.

So is curcumin a cure for cancer? There is anecdotal evidence of people only using curcumin (and we have had examples) and beating their cancer and the British Medical Journal have pledged to investigate, what is exciting the experts in cancer centers in America is that it can play a role against many of the steps in the cancer process. As such it would seem stupid to ignore it as a part of an Integrative or holistic cancer treatment programme. 

The anti-cancer action of curcumin:

  •  Importantly, the spice can restrict  the action of the enzyme COX-2, known to increase chronic inflammation in the body. Such inflammation is a known precursor to cancer and other chronic illnesses; it also helps cancer spread.
  • Curcumin has also been shown to inhibit vascular epithelial growth factors. Every tumour needs a blood supply - the growth factors build one, but curcumin has been shown to stop them.
  • Curcumin has been shown to ’re-awaken’ a key tumour suppressor gene. 
  • Curcumin has been shown to inhibit metastases.                
  • Curcumin has been shown to kill cancer cells (B lymphoma cells) in NHL.
  • Curcumin prevents regrowth of cancer stem cells, which lie at the heart of many tumours.
  • Curcumin can block glutaminase enzymes producing glutamate in prostate cancer, and help reduce PSA levels.

Go to: Three foods stop prostate cancer feeding

  • Curcumin can lower blood platelets thinning the blood. However, cancer uses platelets to form blood supplies, grow and spread. 
  • Curcumin has been shown to increase the effectiveness of certain drugs,  while inhibiting their toxicity to healthy cells 

Go To: Chemotherapy effectiveness enhanced by curcumin

More research is being reported every month! And showing a wide variety of benefits. For example: 

  1. Milk thistle and curcumin are strongly effective against colorectal cancer cells
  2. Curcumin reduces the risk of breast cancer caused by HRT
  3. Curcumin works with chokeberry to kill brain cancer cells

Even the BBC produced a programme showing turmeric to greatly reduce DNA methylation and homocysteine levels in the body. Homocysteine build up causes methylation around the DNA, which means more histones blocking messages being produced. This is the core of the Science of Epigenetics, and is linked to illnesses from cancer to Alzheimer’s.

Curcumin has strong epigenetic anti-cancer benefits

In the journal ’Genes and Nutrition’ (2011, 6(2) 93-108) the whole issue of ’Epigenetics’ was analysed. It used to be thought that the genes in the nucleus of your cells controlled all aspects of your health and that mutation (sequence change) in the DNA in that nucleus led to chronic illness and cancer. This was the Somatic Theory of cancer. Note the word theory! The solution is the cut out the cancer or destroy the nucleus with chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

This theory was brought into question by research from St. Jude's hospital in 2003 where they took the nuclei from aggressive cancer cells and transplanted them into frog embryos. Instead of seeing an aggressive cancer grow, nothing happened.

The Epigenetic theory of cancer holds that your DNA sequences are controlled, activated or suppressed by the localised environment around (epi-) your genome. So environmental toxins, hormones and stress can affect cause or release blockages, as can natural compounds in food. More than 60 natural compounds including vitamin D, melatonin, fish oil omega-3, and sulforaphanes can have strong epi-genetic effects. Such ’signalling pathways’ have also been shown to be affected by curcumin - curcumin has powerful epigenetic properties.

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.

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

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

Curcumin's many health benefits

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!


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



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. Aggarwal has withdrawn or revisited several of his very many research papers for methodology reasons. MD Anderson have investigated the issue and Aggarwal continues in his Professorial role. However, as a result we use only one MD Anderson study in the above report and that has been verified by a second research source.

While this all sounds concerning, to put it in context, it should be noted that in 2015 the FDA found flaws in almost 40 per cent of clinical trials for drugs in recruitment, detail and methodology.

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


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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