Healing Support for Cancer: Curcumin
Curcumin, a compound derived from the Indian spice turmeric, happens to be my absolute favorite nutritional supplement! Weird? Perhaps. But I have many reasons for these preferential feelings, as research findings continue to pour in touting (and proving!) a wide variety of benefits of this compound.
In fact, in the past year alone, 240 studies of curcumin’s potential as a cancer-preventing agent have been published in global scientific literature. Basically, this compound possesses multiple active anti-inflammatory and chemoprotective components and does a whole lot to make liver detoxification more efficient. If you don’t mind a bit of technical speak, take a quick look at this list of impressive research on curcumin for cancer summarized by Life Extension Foundation:
Curcumin inhibited chemically induced carcinogenesis in the colon when administered at different stages of the cancer process. Laboratory rats, administered curcumin during either initiation or late in the premalignant phase, had a lesser incidence and fewer numbers of invasive malignant colon tumors (Kawamori et al. 1999). Also, by inhibiting COX-2-arachidonic acid interactions, curcumin suppresses prostaglandins responsible for inflammatory processes (Plummer et al. 1999). Chronic inflammation has for decades been regarded as a cause of colon cancer (Konig et al. 1976).
Antioxidant activity: Curcumin inhibits or possibly even reverses oxidative damage by scavenging and neutralizing free radicals. By defusing the hydroxyl and superoxide radicals and breaking oxidative chain reactions, curcumin protects DNA with greater efficiency than lipoic acid, vitamin E, or beta-carotene (Ruby et al. 1995; Ahsan et al. 1999; Li et al. 2001).
Breast cancer: Curcumin inhibits the growth of multiple breast cancer cell lines (Inano et al. 1999), particularly those that result from exposure to environmental estrogens such as chemicals and pesticides (Verma et al. 1998). Also, curcumin, estrogen, and estrogen mimickers gain entry into the cell through the aryl hydrocarbon receptor. Because curcumin competes for entry, it can crowd out damaging materials (Ciolino et al. 1998). According to researchers, curcumin blends well with other cancer inhibitors. For example, a curcumin-isoflavonoid combination suppressed the growth of estrogen receptor-positive cancer cells up to 95% (Verma et al. 1998).
Oral tumors: Curcumin inhibits oral squamous cell carcinoma more effectively than either genistein or quercetin (Ellatar et al. 2000). Only cisplatin, a platinum-based chemotherapy drug, was more effective.
Skin tumors: Curcumin inhibits skin tumors. When applied topically, curcumin reduces skin inflammation and inhibits local swelling (Huang et al. 1997).
Prostate cancer: Curcumin was able to decrease the proliferative potential of androgen-independent prostate cancer cells–and cells of other androgen-dependent cancers–largely by encouraging apoptosis. Moreover, a significant decrease in microvessel density, the sustaining blood supply of a tumor, was also observed (Dorai et al. 2001).
Leukemia: Curcumin-induced apoptotic cell death in promyelocytic leukemia HL-60 cells at concentrations as low as 3.5 µg/mL (Kuo et al. 1996).
Protein kinase C (PKC) and epidermal growth factors (EGF): Curcumin was proclaimed “potentially useful” in developing anti-proliferative strategies to control tumor growth by suppressing the activity of protein kinase C (PKC) (Korutla et al. 1995). As the activity of PKC is slowed down, tumor proliferation is halted (Lin et al. 1997). PKC transmits signals from the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGF-R), a cycle that ultimately encourages the growth of tumors. Conversely, cancers awaiting EGF stimulation are dealt a severe blow if this pathway is severed. Curcumin blocked the activation of EGF by 90%.
p53 potentiator: Curcumin increases expression of healthy nuclear p53 protein in human basal cell carcinomas, hepatomas, and leukemia cell lines (Jee et al. 1998). Turn to the protocol Cancer: Gene Therapies, Stem Cells, Telomeres, and Cytokines to read more about tumor suppressor genes.
Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha): Researchers at the University of Kentucky showed that TNF-alpha acts as a catalyst in cytokine production, stimulating interleukin-6 (IL-6) and -8 (IL-8) and activating NF-kB (Blanchard et al. 2001). Curcumin inhibits TNF-alpha, thus blocking TNF-alpha, NF-kB pathways, and the emergence of pro-inflammatory cytokines (Xu 1997-1998; Li et al. 2001; Literat et al. 2001). To read more about proinflammatory cytokines, turn to the protocol Cancer: Gene Therapies, Stem Cells, Telomeres and Cytokines.
Helicobactor pylori: Exposure of gastric epithelial cells to the ulcer-causing bacterium H. pylori (considered a potential gastric and pancreatic carcinogen) induces secretion of IL-8. IL-8 plays a pivotal role in the development of cancer. The more virulent H. pylori, the greater the production of IL-8. H. pylori strains that fail to induce IL-8 secretion do not activate NF-kB, while all IL-8 inducing strains activate the transcription factor. Curcumin is capable of inhibiting NF-kB and completely suppressing IL-8. By restraining essential players in the development of H. pylori, curcumin diminishes the risks of both gastric and pancreatic cancer (Munzenmaier et al. 1997; Stolzenberg-Solomon et al. 2001).
Now I’m going attempt to give you a short “non-technical” summary of the above just in case any heads out there are spinning!
Basically, as I mentioned earlier, one of the most impressive actions of curcumin is it’s anti-inflammatory capability. It not only decreases inflammation (think muscle pain, arthritis, or even inflammation that is so internal that you can’t even feel it as “pain”), but it also interferes with the triggers of inflammation that could lead to the mutation of cells.
Curcumin regulates the reproduction cycle of cells, preventing their uncontrolled spread and growth while promoting the death of wacked-out cancer cells (how’s that for non-technical language?!) All this occurs without any negative effects to healthy tissue. It also will make tumors more vulnerable to conventional cancer-killing treatment and block the molecules that allow cancer cells to move into the tissue, all while starving tumors of their blood supply. Simply put, curcumin can put a stop to multiple forms of cancer in various stages.
Now all of the above sounds amazing, but the problem tends to be that curcumin is very difficult for the body to absorb. Specifically, supplemental curcumin will reach the digestive tract and the liver, but very little will get to the bloodstream for transport to the rest of the body. So, to avoid throwing money away, it’s imperative to select a curcumin supplement that is formulated for increased bioavailability. Research shows that including a component of black pepper called piperine, or a form of fat, along with curcumin will allow a greater percentage to successfully reach the bloodstream. A formulation called MicroActive® Curcumin has proven to be among the most effectively absorbed and is worth looking into. Also make sure that you select a supplement with 95% concentration of curcumin, which is currently the industry standard. Scroll to the bottom of this post for my brand recommendation.
Dosage: How much is enough?
It’s suggested that healthy people typically take 300-900 mg of curcumin daily, with that amount increasing three-fold for cancer patients often take as many as four 900-mg capsules 3 times a day for a 6- to 12-month period, reducing the dosage thereafter. Individuals with biliary tract obstruction should avoid curcumin because it enhances biliary flow from the liver. High doses of curcumin should not be taken on an empty stomach to protect against gastric irritation.
Is there ever a reason NOT to take curcumin?
Yes. If you’re taking an anticoagulant or antiplatelet medication, curcumin may increase your risk of bleeding so it’s best to avoid it. Also, curcumiin has been shown to interfere with the effectiveness of some chemotherapy drugs. Specifically, those drugs that kill cancer cells via free-radical damage are the ones affected because curcumiin actually protects these bad cells from free-radical damage. Although this is exactly what makes curcumin amazing when it comes to keeping healthy cells healthy, it is certainly not the outcome we want when it comes to cancer cells. To help you better understand this potential issue as well as help you navigate through the web of confusing information out there, Life Extension Foundation provides some excellent guidelines regarding chemotherapy and IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY ON CHEMOTHERAPEUTIC DRUGS OR EXPECT TO BEGIN CHEMOTHERAPY, THIS IS A MUST-READ!!
And finally, if your curcumin supplement contains piperine to help increase its bioavailability, understand that piperine may also increase the bioavailability and slow the elimination of a number of drugs. This, in turn, could raise the likelihood of side effects and affect recommended dosage. As usual, talk to your doctor prior to adding curcumin to your supplemental regimen.
What brand is best?
I recommend Dr. Mercola Curcumin Advanced because it contains MicroActive® Curcumin. One of these per day (500 mg) is a good maintenance dose but could be increased to 4 capsules per day or more for those in a diseased state.
References and Studies:
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