By Dr. Mercola
Besides giving Indian curries their rich golden color, turmeric contains a polyphenol called curcumin, which has been shown to possess many health benefits, including being a malignancy-fighting powerhouse. Curcumin's health-boosting properties are well-documented and this single compound exhibits more than 150 potentially therapeutic actions.
With thousands of studies performed,1 researchers have shown curcumin has antibacterial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antimalarial, antioxidant, antiparasitic, antiproliferative, pro-apoptotic and wound healing properties.
Animal studies have suggested curcumin may be useful in the treatment of a wide range of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, neurologic conditions, obesity and psychiatric disorders, as well as chronic illnesses affecting your cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems, eyes, kidneys, liver and lungs.2
While turmeric is widely available in powdered form, it contains a very small amount of curcumin, which is known to be poorly absorbed through your gastrointestinal tract. For these reasons, you'll receive more health benefits from a curcumin extract. A typical anticancer dose is up to 3 grams (just under 1 teaspoon) of high-quality bioavailable curcumin extract, taken three to four times a day.
Because it's a lipophilic (fat-loving) molecule, many curcumin preparations include some sort of oil or fat to improve its absorbability and bioavailability.
The Many Benefits of Curcumin
As the active ingredient in turmeric powder, curcumin is well-known for its broad range of curative properties. It has been used for thousands of years as a spice and beauty aid, and in both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine to treat a wide range of maladies — from cancer to indigestion and heart disease to neurodegenerative conditions. Given its many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, below are a few of the conditions responsive to curcumin:3,4
• Cancer prevention and treatment: Taking a curcumin supplement regularly may help prevent and treat cancer based on the fact it appears to block the blood supply to cancerous tumors, thereby suppressing the growth and replication of malignant cells.
• Heart health: Animal studies have shown curcumin can help regulate blood pressure and prevent heart disease. It may be particularly beneficial to reduce the incidence of atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. In other studies, curcumin has been found to lower LDL and total cholesterol and prevent your blood from clotting.5
• Intestinal and bowel issues: Because curcumin stimulates your gallbladder to produce bile, it may help improve your digestion, reduce bloating and gas, and soothe digestive disorders. When combined with conventional treatments, curcumin may help promote the remission of ulcerative colitis.6
Scientists investigating curcumin's biological activities had this to say about the extent to which it plays a vital role in supporting your health:9 "Modern science has shown that curcumin modulates various signaling molecules, including inflammatory molecules, transcription factors, enzymes, protein kinases, protein reductases, carrier proteins, cell survival proteins, drug resistance proteins, adhesion molecules, growth factors, receptors, cell-cycle regulatory proteins, chemokines, DNA, RNA and metal ions."
Curcumin Is a Powerful Weapon Against Malignancy
In animal-based lab research during the past 20 years, curcumin has been shown to have both cancer prevention and cancer treatment properties. Its usefulness in the treatment of colon cancer is particularly well established.10,11,12 One group of scientists investigating curcumin's ability to suppress the proliferation of colon cancer cells by targeting a major cell cycle protein, said:13
"Curcumin … is one of the most popular phytochemicals for cancer prevention. Numerous reports have demonstrated modulation of multiple cellular signaling pathways by curcumin and its molecular targets in various cancer cell lines. Cyclin-dependent kinase 2 (CDK2), a major cell cycle protein, was identified as a potential molecular target of curcumin. Indeed, in vitro and ex vivo kinase assay data revealed a dramatic suppressive effect of curcumin on CDK2 kinase activity."
Other cancers in which curcumin has shown protective effects in rodent models include breast, bladder, brain, esophageal, kidney, liver, lung, pancreas, prostate and stomach, to name a few.14 As noted by Dr. William LaValley — one of the leading clinical researchers and medical practitioners in the field of integrative cancer treatment, whom I've previously interviewed on this topic — curcumin appears to be universally beneficial for nearly every type of cancer treatment.
This is unusual considering cancer's many varied molecular pathologies. One reason for this universal anticancer proclivity is curcumin's ability to affect multiple molecular targets, via multiple pathways.
Once it gets into a cell, curcumin affects more than 100 different molecular pathways. And, as explained by LaValley, whether the curcumin molecule causes an increase in activity of a particular molecular target, or a decrease or inhibition of activity, studies repeatedly underscore its potent anticancer activity.
Notably, curcumin is nontoxic, and does not adversely affect healthy cells, suggesting it selectively targets cancer cells. In cases in which certain chemotherapy drugs are used, curcumin has been shown to work synergistically with the drugs to enhance the elimination of cancer cells.
Woman Beat Myeloma Using Therapeutic Daily Dose of Curcumin
In terms of real-life success stories with this potent cancer-fighter, the British Medical Journal15,16 presented a case study on Dieneke Ferguson, age 57, who successfully treated blood cancer using curcumin. After complaining of high blood pressure, Ferguson was diagnosed with myeloma in 2007. Myeloma is a cancer that begins in plasma cells within your bone marrow, causing your plasma cells to become abnormal, multiply uncontrollably and release only one type of antibody that has no useful function.
Within 15 months, Ferguson's myeloma advanced to stage 3 and she underwent several rounds of chemotherapy. In 2009, she had a stem cell transplant. None of the treatments were effective in beating the cancer. After stem cell therapy failed again, in 2011, Ferguson began taking daily doses of curcumin extract with bioperine (a black pepper extract) to aid absorption. She took 8 grams (a little over 2 teaspoons) every night on an empty stomach. The cancer stabilized.
A few months later, she began weekly hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which involves breathing pure oxygen in an enclosed chamber. Over the past five years, which incidentally is the average survival rate for myeloma, Ferguson's cancer has remained stable and her blood counts are in the normal range. By all accounts, she enjoys a good quality of life. Ferguson continues to take her daily dose of curcumin and receive hyperbaric oxygen therapy once a week.
Ferguson's doctors, who practice medicine at London's Barts Health NHS Trust, believe she may be the first recorded case of curcumin being more effective than conventional treatments to beat cancer. They said:17
"A small but significant number of myeloma patients consume dietary supplements in conjunction with conventional treatment, primarily to help cope with the side effects of treatment, manage symptoms and enhance general well-being. Few, if any, use dietary supplementation as an alternative to standard antimyeloma therapy.
To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report in which curcumin has demonstrated an objective response in progressive disease in the absence of conventional treatment. The fact that our patient, who had advanced stage disease and was effectively salvaged while exclusively on curcumin, suggests a potential antimyeloma effect of curcumin."
About her experience, Ferguson said,18 "I hope my story will lead to more people finding out about the amazing health benefits of curcumin. I also hope that as a result of the publicity, more research will be undertaken so curcumin may become freely available on the national health service and can help others."
Suggestions for Using Curcumin Therapeutically
While turmeric is readily available in the spice section of nearly every grocery store, it's important to realize if you want clinical results, it's not enough to simply use turmeric as a spice in your cooking. The turmeric root itself contains only about a 3 percent curcumin concentration. To complicate matters further, curcumin is poorly absorbed by your body. According to LaValley:
"There is truly a broad array of disease that curcumin has significant potential for benefit. The challenge is how to get enough of it into the bloodstream to make a difference. That's where the bioavailability of the product comes into play. There's now a range of products on the market that allow substantial amounts of curcumin and metabolites of curcumin that are therapeutic … people now have much better options than what was available even five years ago."
While I usually suggest raw foods, curcumin is an exception. When taking it in its raw form, from the turmeric root, you'd only be absorbing about 1 percent of the available amount. Even in supplement form it's unlikely to provide the type of results reflected in scientific studies. That said, if you want to use curcumin therapeutically, you can try one of the following three alternatives:
1. Locate a high-quality turmeric extract. Look for an extract containing 100 percent certified organic ingredients, with at least 95 percent curcuminoids. The formula should be free of additives, excipients (substances added as a processing or stability aid) and fillers. Typical anticancer doses are up to 3 grams of good bioavailable curcumin extract, taken three to four times a day.
2. Make a microemulsion. Combine 1 tablespoon of raw curcumin powder with one or two egg yolks and 1 to 2 teaspoons of melted coconut oil. Use a high-speed hand blender to emulsify it. Keep in mind curcumin contains a strong yellow pigment that can permanently discolor clothing, kitchen tools and surfaces, so take care when using it in powder form.
3. Boil curcumin powder. Another strategy that can help increase absorption is to put 1 tablespoon of raw curcumin powder into 1 quart of boiling water. (The water must be boiling when you add the powder — it will not work well if you add the curcumin first and then heat the water.)
After boiling the mixture for 10 minutes you will have created a woody-tasting 12 percent solution that you can drink once cooled. With this method, the curcumin will gradually fall out of the solution over time, so be sure to drink it within four hours to achieve the best results.
Other Ways to Help Your Body Fight Malignant Disease
If you have cancer and are overweight, or have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or diabetes, then insulin and leptin resistance are very likely affecting your body's ability to fight the disease.
From my perspective, a ketogenic diet — with or without intermittent fasting — would be a prudent treatment strategy to resolve that underlying problem and give your body a better chance of responding to cancer treatment. Once you've normalized your insulin and leptin, you don't necessarily need to maintain a ketogenic diet, especially if you find it too restrictive. About this approach, LaValley states:
"I agree that a ketogenic diet is really appropriate in many cases, probably the significant majority of cases. It's been known for probably 80 years or longer that solid tumors, and some of the blood cancers, are sugar-loving. I use a PET scan to demonstrate to patients … objective proof that the tumors they have in their body are sugar-avid. They're taking up sugar at a rate much higher than the other regular healthy cells.
I want to drive home that message, so people are motivated to alter their diet to have a low [starchy] carb intake, causing their body to generate additional nutrient supply molecules called ketones ... What that means is we're trying to provide an anticancer, antagonistic pressure on the cancer cells by reducing the amount of sugar that's readily available for uptake.
We do so by reducing the easily available sugar in the diet and compensating for the nutrient and sugar reduction by increasing healthy fats."
In addition to cutting out sugar, it would also be prudent to assess your protein intake. Many Americans eat far more protein than required for optimal health. Importantly, excess protein stimulates your mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway which, while useful for building muscles, can be detrimental when treating cancer. This is the case because mTOR is a pathway that increases cellular proliferation, which you don't want when it comes to cancer cells.
The formula I recommend for calculating protein intake calls for 1 gram per kilogram of lean body mass or 0.5 grams per pound of lean body weight. To determine your lean mass, first determine your fat mass. As an example, if your body fat mass is 20 percent, your lean mass is 80 percent of your total body weight. If you weigh 150 pounds, your lean mass would then be 120 pounds (150 X 0.8), and your protein requirement would be about 60 grams (120 X 0.5).
If you are doing vigorous exercise or are pregnant, you can add up to 25 percent more protein. If you need some encouragement with respect to those who are beating various forms of cancer by treating it as a metabolic disease, check out my previous article "Promoting Advances in Managing Cancer as a Metabolic Disease."
Need a Doctor Familiar With Curcumin and Other Alternative Treatments?
LaValley is available to consult with you or your physician on a wide variety of health challenges, including cancer.19 He's licensed to practice medicine in the U.S. and Canada. His medical clinic is located in Chester, Nova Scotia, where he sees patients, and he also spends time in Austin, Texas, where he conducts research.
When there, he's available to consult with other physicians and their patients. Says LaValley, "For instance, if a patient has pancreatic cancer and the physician wants to implement one of the protocols I provide, I will do a consultation … and then make recommendations to the physician for implementation."
LaValley acknowledges the many challenges he faces with respect to working within the medical establishment, mainly because there's so much information that's not readily known or understood by traditional doctors. In the U.S. and Canada, when a physician wants to administer one or more natural products like curcumin or some off-label pharmaceuticals for anticancer use, they very often fear recrimination or disciplinary action. He said:
"That is, I think, very unfortunate, because the evidence base does exist for [natural approaches] … I think the most important movement that needs to occur is for patients to recognize their own value in the decision-making process and to demand they have access to [alternative] therapeutic choices. They're available, they're supported in the evidence base, and [you] have the right to ask for them rather than just accept whatever the physician is offering in the conventional realm."