You’ve probably heard the buzz around curcumin. The principle component of the popular Indian spice turmeric, it’s a natural plant chemical that’s responsible for the yellow color of the spice.
The buzz, however, isn’t about the taste or how this pretty powder can jazz up your dinner menu, but how it may have potential health benefits, particularly in helping to prevent cancer.
The Mayo Clinic advises caution, as there isn’t yet enough evidence to recommend curcumin for preventing or treating cancer, but the early studies are definitely intriguing.
What is Curcumin?
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family, and is a well-known spice that’s one of the main components of curry powder. The plant is actually gathered annually, and the rhizomes—like potatoes—are used to create the spice.
Turmeric is common in flood flavoring and in Asian cooking. It’s a great spice for rice, potato salads, meat sauces, seafood marinades, stews, and braises.
Curcumin is the principle substance in turmeric that has shown health benefits. It’s long been used in Asian medicine to treat a variety of conditions, mostly those associated with abdominal pain, like diarrhea. It was also used in ancient Hindu medicine for treating swelling and sprains.
According to the American Cancer Society, curcumin has shown promising results in a number of studies. Laboratory testing has shown that it can kill cancer cells and reduce the growth of any surviving cells. It’s also been found to reduce the development of several types of cancer in laboratory animals and to shrink animal tumors. And it doesn’t stop there.
“Laboratory and animal research suggests that curcumin may prevent cancer, slow the spread of cancer, make chemotherapy more effective and protect healthy cells from damage by radiation therapy,” says the Mayo Clinic. They add that clinical trials are underway 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 like chemotherapy.
Other studies have shown that curcumin is an effective antioxidant, and helps to reduce inflammation.
Some Specific Studies
Here are a few of the details.
- Research published in 2003 showed that curcumin could suppress tumor initiation, promotion, and growth. “All of these studies suggest that curcumin has enormous potential in the prevention and therapy of cancer,” researchers wrote.
- Oral administration of curcumin has been found to inhibit stomach, liver, and colon cancer in animals.
- A study from the UCLA found that curcumin kills head and neck cancers by inhibiting cancer-fueling inflammation and growth-driving cell signaling. “We believe curcumin could be combined with other treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation to treat head and neck cancer,” researchers wrote. “It could also perhaps be given to patients at high risk for developing head and neck cancers—smokers, those who chew tobacco and people with the HPV virus—as well as to patients with previous oral cancers to fight recurrence.”
- A small study published in 2008 in the journal Clinical Cancer Research found that curcumin temporarily stopped advanced pancreatic cancer growth and reduced the size of tumors. Even more exciting—there were no side effects.
- Bharat Aggarwal, Ph.D., Professor of Cancer Medicine at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, states that curcumin is unique and versatile as an anti-cancer agent because it can attack multiple targets linked with cancer promotion at once. “We have not been able to find a cancer we can’t effectively treat in the laboratory with curcumin,” he said. “What’s more, we haven’t been able to come up with a dose that causes toxicity.”
- A 2012 study published in Cancer Research found that curcumin helps slow the growth of tumors in prostate cancer patients by “jamming” receptors that enable the tumor to grow and spread. Researchers said the results had implications beyond prostate cancer, since the way it fought the tumors is key in other malignancies as well, like breast cancer.
- Curcumin was found to slow the progression from colon polyp to colon cancer by damping down inflammatory reactions and halting the growth of cancer cells. Curcumin also increases colon cancer cell response to radiation.
The studies go on and on. In fact, according to a 2011 article in Life Extension Magazine, 240 studies on curcumin and cancer were published in 2010 alone. Other research has shown curcumin’s powers can help prevent or treat leukemias, lyphomas, and myelomas, as well as brain and bladder cancers. Long-term human studies are needed to solidify the evidence behind the spice’s potential.
Other Health Benefits
Though cancer is the top area of research with curcumin right now, the spice has also shown promise in protecting against skin diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, heart failure, stomach ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, infections, and high cholesterol.
Meanwhile, what if you want to incorporate this healthy spice into your life? Here are some tips:
- Supplements often contain bromelain, as it helps the body absorb curcumin.
- Recommended adult doses: 400-600 mg, 3 times per day of standardized powder; 30-90 drops a day of fluid extract; 15-30 drops four times a day of tincture; 1.5-3 grams per day of the cut root; and 1-3 grams per day of dried, powdered root.
- Sprinkle the spice on apples sautéed in butter, on steamed cauliflower, potatoes, green beans, and onions.
- Add some to salad dressings.
- Add to the water while cooking rice.
- Try adding some to your lemony-ginger tea.
- Spice up your chicken dishes with turmeric along with your garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and onions.
Blood-thinning medications, antacids, and diabetes medications may have potentially dangerous interactions with curcumin—be sure to check with your doctor.
How do you get more curcumin into your daily diet?
American Cancer Society, “Turmeric,” http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/HerbsVitaminsandMinerals/turmeric.
Aggarwal BB, et al., “Anticancer potential of curcumin: preclinical and clinical studies,” Anticancer Res 2003 Jan-Feb; 23 (1A):363-98, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12680238.
Jane Higdon, Ph.D., “Curcumin,” Linus Pauling Institute, November 2005, http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/phytochemicals/curcumin/.
Elizabeth Cunningham Perkins, “Study: Chewing curcumin activates cancer-killing mechanisms,” Digital Journal, September 15, 2011, http://digitaljournal.com/article/311514.
Darcy De Leon, “Curcumin Temporarily Slows Pancreatic Cancer,” MD Anderson Cancer Center, September 2008, http://www.mdanderson.org/publications/cancerwise/archives/2008-september/cancerwise-september-2008-curcumin-temporarily-slows-pancreatic-cancer.html.
“Curcumin: Spicing Up Cancer Prevention,” AICR ScienceNow, Volume 30, Fall 2009, http://preventcancer.aicr.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=17275&news_iv_ctrl=0&abbr=res_.
Anthony Gucciardi, “Curcumin Naturally Slows Tumor Growth Says New Study,” Natural Society, February 14, 2012, http://naturalsociety.com/curcumin-naturally-slows-tumor-growth/.
Murphy EA, Davis JM, McClellan JL, Gordon BT, Carmichael MD. Curcumin’s effect on intestinal inflammation and tumorigenesis in the Apc(Min/+) Mouse. J Interferon Cytokine Res. 2010 Oct 15.
Sandur SK, Deorukhkar A, Pandey MK, et al. Curcumin modulates the radiosensitivity of colorectal cancer cells by suppressing constitutive and inducible NF-kappaB activity. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2009 Oct 1;75(2):534-42.
J. Everett Borger, “How Curcumin Protects Against Cancer,” Life Extension Magazine, March 2011, http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2011/mar2011_How-Curcumin-Protects-Against-Cancer_01.htm.
University of Maryland Medical Center, “Turmeric,” http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/turmeric-000277.htm.