Turmeric and cancer prevention

Curcumin is a component of turmeric, a spice that is harvested from the rhizomes of the root of a herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family (Curcuma longa).1 Turmeric has been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years, and is a commonly used spice in Asian and Indian foods.

Curcumin is purported to have multiple health-promoting effects, such as relieving inflammation, pain, and symptoms of metabolic syndromes. There are also claims that curcumin has anticancer properties.

Anticancer Effects

There are multiple studies that suggest that curcumin has anticancer properties, but the majority of these were conducted in vitro.2,3 These studies suggest that curcumin inhibits cell proliferation and induces cell cycle arrest, apoptosis, and senescence — through various mechanisms, across multiple different types of cancer cell lines. Curcumin has been shown to decrease the expression of multiple different enzymes, transcription factors, inflammatory cytokines, growth factors, and other cell-signaling components that are important for cancer growth and progression.1

For example, a consistent finding across multiple studies of different cancer cell lines is that curcumin downregulates the expression of the transcription factor NF-κB, which is commonly highly expressed by cancer cells and is known to promote the development of cancer, metastasis, and tumor growth.2 In addition, curcumin arrests the cell cycle at the G1/S or G2/M phases by inhibition of different cyclins. Curcumin also induces apoptosis through caspase-dependent pathways, and decreases the expression of antiapoptotic proteins.

Curcumin has been evaluated in animal models of different cancer types.3 These studies have generally shown that curcumin has antiproliferative effects. For example, a mouse model of colorectal cancer (CRC) that was treated by intraperitoneal injection of curcumin or vehicle control demonstrated that curcumin prolonged life and inhibited tumor growth.4 These data also suggest that curcumin upregulated the miRNA miR-130a, which decreased the Wnt/β-catenin pathway and led to prolonged survival.

Studies in animal models of breast cancer demonstrated that curcumin also downregulates NF-κB, reduces metastasis, and inhibits angiogenic signaling resulting in decreased microvessel formation.5 Animal studies of pancreatic cancer have also demonstrated that curcumin inhibits tumor growth, suppresses proliferation, and reduces angiogenesis.6

Pictured: good in smoothies. Not in chemotherapy. Unsplash/Osha Key

Cancer has become an almost universal fear. Whenever we think illness and death, the first disease that springs to mind is cancer. It is pernicious, hard to cure, and comes in so many forms and mutations that even our best efforts to understand it only scratch the surface.

Cancer may no longer always carry a death sentence, but it remains one of the most terrifying words in the English language.

And the worst thing about cancer is that not only is it incredibly difficult to cure, but our treatments come with an enormous host of side effects. When the choices are almost-certain-death or months of suffering and slightly-less-likely-death, it’s understandable that a lot of patients with cancer choose to go looking for alternative treatments.

Sadly, these treatments rarely work.

So why do people keep talking about turmeric as if it was going to solve cancer forever?


Spicy Shenanigans

Turmeric is a bitter, orange spice that lends its flavor to Indian curries and it’s color to anyone foolish enough to try to cook with it without wearing an apron. There has been quite a bit of interest over it for a number of years, as a group of compounds that are found in turmeric — called curcuminoids — were found to be somewhat biologically active. The most important of these, curcumin, is the main chemical responsible for all of those snazzy “Turmeric: the miracle cure” headlines.

Pictured: journalists getting it wrong. Google

Further research has thrown a damper on this interest, as not only is curcumin not very bioavailable — your body absorbs only a small percentage of the curcumin you eat — there has also been very little evidence that when you give people curcumin it does anything for their health at all.

We have researched curcumin as a cure for everything from depression to myeloma, and so far the most you can say is that it probably isn’t going to hurt you. There may be some minor benefits, but there’s certainly no reason to believe that it will cure you of any illnesses.

So all those headlines you read about turmeric being a miracle cure? Not so reliable.

But that isn’t all. It turns out that, even if curcumin was the most amazing drug in the world, eating turmeric wouldn’t be the answer to your problems.

Tricky Turmeric

The first issue with eating turmeric to get a dose of curcumin is mentioned above. If you eat turmeric, you can expect about 25 percent of the curcumin contained within to make its way into your blood. That’s a fairly big problem, but it can be partially fixed by using various methods to try and keep the curcumin in your blood for longer.

The real issue is that there isn’t a lot of curcumin in turmeric at all.

Pure turmeric powder is, by weight, about 3 percent curcumin. There’s a lot of debate over what a therapeutic dose of curcumin might be, but it’s usually considered to be around 8–10 grams per day.

That means you’d have to eat about 330 grams (~12 ounces) of turmeric per day to get a therapeutic dose.

That’s a lot of spice. Your average jar of turmeric is ~25 grams.

To put it in context, your average curry might have 10 grams of turmeric per litre of fluid. If you really love the flavour, maybe double that.

And there’s no evidence at all that turmeric is itself good for your health. So every single headline that talks about turmeric is wrong. There’s no point in drinking those golden lattes. Unless they are literally pure turmeric powder, you aren’t getting enough of the pertinent chemical to do anything for your body at all.

Curcumin and Cancer

Which brings us back to cancer. Turmeric itself is obviously a waste of time. But there have been several outspoken cases where patients have taken curcumin pills and seen some miraculous effects on their cancer.

This takes us to a dark place. Cancer is a terrible disease, and I feel for anyone diagnosed with it. Survival after being told you have only months to live is miraculous, regardless of the cause.

But the problem with curcumin as a cancer cure is that, by and large, all we have to go on are individual case reports. One person here and there who has taken curcumin and lived to tell the tale. And, sadly, individual case reports are worthless as evidence for effect.

Out of 100 cancer patients who are pronounced terminally ill, one will live long enough to come back and tell their doctor that they were wrong. Regardless of treatment. Regardless of other factors.

Sometimes, medicine is more of an art than a science.

If you don’t run a controlled study — comparing people who do take curcumin to people who don’t — the most you can say is that occasionally people who take curcumin survive cancer. And the few controlled studies that have been run on curcumin haven’t shown that it is effective for cancer at all.

Media Malarky

So every article you’ve read about turmeric got it wrong. There’s no reason to eat turmeric to improve your health.

There may be some health benefits to curcumin, but in the last 10 years of research the results have been very mixed. It might do something for your health, but the results are at best inconclusive.

Next time you’re at the cafe, don’t get a golden latte. Not only are they disgusting, they won’t help your health at all.

Get a coffee instead. Not for the health benefits — there aren’t really any — but just because coffee is great.

If you want something exotic, get a chai. It’s much tastier.

Gideon is a health nerd and epidemiologist (public health person) working in chronic disease. He writes about how simple health science really is, how we get it so wrong and why being terrified of that New Scary Study is usually a bad idea. If you want to get in contact, he is shamefully addicted to Twitter and would love to hear from you!

How Curcumin Targets Cancer

  1. Available at: . Accessed May 31, 2016.
  2. Park W, Amin AR, Chen ZG, et al. New perspectives of curcumin in cancer prevention. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2013;6(5):387-400.
  3. Devassy JG, Nwachukwu ID, Jones PJ. Curcumin and cancer: barriers to obtaining a health claim. Nutr Rev. 2015;73(3):155-65.
  4. Bachmeier BE, Killian P, Pfeffer U, et al. Novel aspects for the application of Curcumin in chemoprevention of various cancers. Front Biosci (Schol Ed). 2010;2:697-717.
  5. Sikora E, Bielak-Zmijewska A, Mosieniak G, et al. The promise of slow down ageing may come from curcumin. Curr Pharm Des. 2010;16(7):884-92.
  6. He ZY, Shi CB, Wen H, et al. Upregulation of p53 expression in patients with colorectal cancer by administration of curcumin. Cancer Invest. 2011;29(3):208-13.
  7. Sharma RA, McLelland HR, Hill KA, et al. Pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic study of oral Curcuma extract in patients with colorectal cancer. Clin Cancer Res. 2001;7(7):1894-900.
  8. Sharma RA, Euden SA, Platton SL, et al. Phase I clinical trial of oral curcumin: biomarkers of systemic activity and compliance. Clin Cancer Res. 2004;10(20):6847-54.
  9. Garcea G, Berry DP, Jones DJ, et al. Consumption of the putative chemopreventive agent curcumin by cancer patients: assessment of curcumin levels in the colorectum and their pharmacodynamic consequences. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005;14(1):120-5.
  10. Cheng AL, Hsu CH, Lin JK, et al. Phase I clinical trial of curcumin, a chemopreventive agent, in patients with high-risk or pre-malignant lesions. Anticancer Res. 2001;21(4b):2895-900.
  11. Dhillon N, Aggarwal BB, Newman RA, et al. Phase II trial of curcumin in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. Clin Cancer Res. 2008;14(14):4491-9.
  12. Duarte VM, Han E, Veena MS, et al. Curcumin enhances the effect of cisplatin in suppression of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma via inhibition of IKKbeta protein of the NFkappaB pathway. Mol Cancer Ther. 2010;9(10):2665-75.
  13. Hartojo W, Silvers AL, Thomas DG, et al. Curcumin promotes apoptosis, increases chemosensitivity, and inhibits nuclear factor kappaB in esophageal adenocarcinoma. Transl Oncol. 2010;3(2):99-108.
  14. 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;75(2):534-42.
  15. Ghalaut VS, Sangwan L, Dahiya K, et al. Effect of imatinib therapy with and without turmeric powder on nitric oxide levels in chronic myeloid leukemia. J Oncol Pharm Pract. 2012;18(2):186-90.
  16. Ryan JL, Heckler CE, Ling M, et al. Curcumin for radiation dermatitis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of thirty breast cancer patients. Radiat Res. 2013;180(1):34-43.
  17. Golombick T, Diamond TH, Manoharan A, et al. Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, smoldering multiple myeloma, and curcumin: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled cross-over 4g study and an open-label 8g extension study. Am J Hematol. 2012;87(5):455-60.
  18. Ide H, Tokiwa S, Sakamaki K, et al. Combined inhibitory effects of soy isoflavones and curcumin on the production of prostate-specific antigen. Prostate. 2010;70(10):1127-33.
  19. Cruz-Correa M, Shoskes DA, Sanchez P, et al. Combination treatment with curcumin and quercetin of adenomas in familial adenomatous polyposis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2006;4(8):1035-8.
  20. Carroll RE, Benya RV, Turgeon DK, et al. Phase IIa clinical trial of curcumin for the prevention of colorectal neoplasia. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2011;4(3):354-64.
  21. Kim SG, Veena MS, Basak SK, et al. Curcumin treatmentsuppresses IKKbeta kinase activity of salivary cells of patients with head and neck cancer: a pilot study. Clin Cancer Res. 2011;17(18):5953-61.
  22. Durgaprasad S, Pai CG, Vasanthkumar, et al. A pilot study of the antioxidant effect of curcumin in tropical pancreatitis. Indian J Med Res. 2005;122(4):315-8.
  23. Rai B, Kaur J, Jacobs R, et al. Possible action mechanism for curcumin in pre-cancerous lesions based on serum and salivary markers of oxidative stress. J Oral Sci. 2010;52(2):251-6.
  24. Tandon RK, Garg PK. Tropical pancreatitis. Dig Dis. 2004;22(3):258-66.
  25. Zhu S, Moore TW, Lin X, et al. Synthetic curcumin analog EF31 inhibits the growth of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma xenografts. Integr Biol (Camb). 2012;4(6):633-40.
  26. Marczylo TH, Verschoyle RD, Cooke DN, et al. Comparison of systemic availability of curcumin with that of curcumin formulated with phosphatidylcholine. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2007;60(2):171-7.
  27. Yue GG, Cheng SW, Yu H, et al. The role of turmerones on curcumin transportation and P-glycoprotein activities in intestinal Caco-2 cells. J Med Food. 2012;15(3):242-52.
  28. Lao CD, Ruffin MTt, Normolle D, et al. Dose escalation of a curcuminoid formulation. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2006;6:10.
  29. Antony B, Merina B, Iyer VS, et al. A pilot cross-over study to evaluate human oral bioavailability of BCM-95CG (Biocurcumax), a novel bioenhanced preparation of curcumin. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2008;70(4):445-9.

General cancer information

Turmeric is promoted as an alternative cancer treatment. There is some evidence that curcumin, a substance in turmeric, can kill cancer cells in certain cancers. But we need more research.


  • Turmeric is a spice grown in many Asian countries.
  • Research on curcumin as a cancer treatment is ongoing.
  • It may have side effects if taken in large amounts.

What is turmeric?

Turmeric is also known as Indian saffron, jiang huang, haridra and haldi. It is a spice grown in many Asian countries. It belongs to the ginger family and is a main ingredient of curry powder.

The main active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin or diferuloyl methane. Laboratory studies have shown curcumin has anti cancer effects on cancer cells.

Why people with cancer use it

Research has shown lower rates of certain cancers in countries where people eat more curcumin. This is at curcumin levels of about 100mg to 200mg a day over long periods of time.

A few laboratory studies on cancer cells have shown that curcumin has anti cancer effects. It seems to be able to kill cancer cells and prevent more from growing. It has the best effects on breast cancer, bowel cancer, stomach cancer and skin cancer cells.

At the moment there is no clear evidence in humans to show that turmeric or curcumin can prevent or treat cancer.

How you have it

Turmeric can be taken raw, as a powder, a paste or extract. It is also available as an oil.

Side effects of turmeric

It is important to remember that turmeric used in cooking is very safe. But we don’t know how safe curcumin is when used for medical reasons. So far, research studies seem to show that it causes few or no side effects. But we don’t know much about the side effects of taking it in large amounts to treat or prevent cancer.

People have reported stomach pain when eating too much turmeric. They have also reported skin problems when taking it for a long time. So, if you use curcumin for reasons other than cooking, talk to your doctor first.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has warned against Fortodol (also sold as Miradin). It is a turmeric-based food supplement.

Fortodol contains the strong anti-inflammatory drug nimesulide. Nimesulide can cause severe damage to the liver. The signs include:

  • yellowing skin (jaundice)
  • dark urine
  • feeling or being sick
  • unusual tiredness
  • stomach or abdominal pain
  • loss of appetite

It does not have a licence as a medicine in the UK. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the USA states that products with unknown amounts of nimesulide could be very harmful.

Research into curcumin as a cancer treatment

Several studies have looked into whether curcumin could be a cancer treatment. These have had some promising results.

One of these in 2013 was an international laboratory study on bowel cancer cells. It looked at the effects of combined treatment with curcumin and chemotherapy. The researchers concluded that the combined treatment might be better than chemotherapy alone.

A problem highlighted by a number of review studies is that curcumin does not get absorbed easily. This makes it work less well as a treatment. Researchers are looking at ways of overcoming this problem.

We need more clinical trials in humans before we know how well it works as a treatment for cancer.

How much it costs

Fortodol and Miradin are available in the UK and on the internet as food supplements. The FSA advises anyone taking these products to stop doing so immediately. They should contact their doctor if they have any signs of liver disease.

Do not believe information on the internet not backed up by research. And don’t pay for any alternative cancer therapy on the internet.

A word of caution

It is understandable that you might want to try anything if you think it might help treat or cure your cancer. Only you can decide whether to use an alternative cancer therapy such as turmeric.

You could harm your health if you stop your cancer treatment for an unproven treatment.

Many websites promote turmeric as a cure for cancer. But no reputable scientific cancer organisations support any of these claims.

Help or Harm?

Nutritional supplements and cancer treatment often don’t mix

Turmeric is likely safe for most people, but it should be avoided during chemotherapy, radiation or blood-thinning therapies.

See our Nutritional supplements Chart for information on which supplements help or hurt.

Research on nutritional supplements and herbal products is far from conclusive, but an estimated 65% to 80%t of cancer patients already use them. With so many possible agents to investigate, conclusive evidence of true benefit is hard to come by.

Because of this, the American Institute for Cancer Research does not recommend the use of supplements to protect against cancer. But if you do take a nutritional supplement or herbal product, the goal is to do no harm: Avoid supplements that may interfere with treatment, cause side effects that could hinder adequate nutrition, or cause significant discomfort or damage to your body.

The following is a list of common nutritional supplements and herbal products used for the treatment of cancer or associated side effects. Use it to start a conversation with your health care team about what is best for you during your treatment.

Acai berry is another supplement that’s likely safe for most people, but should be avoided during chemotherapy and radiation therapy because of its antioxidant properties.

A general multivitamin with minerals containing no more than 200% to 300% of the Daily Reference Intake may be beneficial, but it is important to know manufacturers of nutritional supplements are not obligated to follow the strict government regulations written for drug manufacturers. This means the content, strength and purity of a supplement may vary among brands and even different batches of the same brand. To ensure the supplement you are taking contains the ingredients listed and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants, look for the U.S. Pharmacopeia, Consumer Lab.com or NSF international seal of approval.

The bottom line is that a healthy, well-balanced diet including lots of plant-based foods-such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables-is most strongly and consistently associated with cancer reduction and lower recurrence rates. The benefi cial effects of the vitamins and minerals contained in these foods just can’t be matched with an isolated nutritional supplement or herbal product.

Nutritional supplements Chart

Nutritional Supplement


Side Effects

When Not To Take It

Is It Safe Otherwise?

ESSIAC Antioxidant, Immune enhancing, Stimulate secretion of GI motility. Increased stool, flu-like symptoms, slight headaches, swollen glands. It should be avoided with certain chemotherapy agents and with radiation therapy. Data has shown stimulation of breast cancer cells. There are multiple potential interactions with chemotherapy due to its effects on the liver metabolism of some of these agents. Not recommended due to lack of evidence to support claims.
HYDROGEN PEROXIDE THERAPY (oxygen therapy) Given orally, intravenously or by colonic irrigation. Lethal gas embolism, tear in the bowel. Alone or in conjunction with any other therapy. Not recommended due to potential harm.
CURCUMIN (Turmeric) Anti-inflammatory, stimulated bile production. Nausea or diarrhea but generally well tolerated. It should be avoided during chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Curcumin has some estrogenic properties and should be avoided in breast cancer patients. Curcumin has shown to decrease platelet function, so it should be avoided by those on blood-thinning therapies. Likely safe.
JUICE PLUS Antioxidant and immune enhancing properties. GI distress and hive-like rash. Due to antioxidant properties, it should be avoided with certain chemotherapy agents and with radiation therapy. Likely safe.
ASHWAGANDHA Anti-inflammatory and immune enhancing effects. GI upset, diarrhea, vomiting, overactive thyroid. Take with caution with barbiturates. Due to potential antioxidant properties, it should be avoided with certain chemotherapy agents and with radiation therapy. Likely safe short-term.
NONJ Antioxidant effects. Liver toxicity, high blood potassium levels. Due to antioxidant properties, it should be avoided with certain chemotherapy agents and with radiation therapy. Likely unsafe.
ACAI BERRY Antioxidant properties. None reported. Due to antioxidant properties, it should be avoided with certain chemotherapy agents and with radiation therapy. Likely safe.
Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antithrombotic effects. Halitosis, heartburn, dyspepsia, nausea, loose stools, and rash. Do not take during antiplatelet, antihypertensive and anticoagulant therapies. Due to antioxidant properties, it should be avoided with certain chemotherapy agents and during radiation therapy. 3 gm. per day or less is likely safe.

Learn more about supplements, nutrition and cancer

  • Print our Nutritional supplements Chart
  • Most Wanted Supplements: Are They Cancer Killers or Frauds? What You Need to Know
  • Separating Scams from Supplements: Finding your way through the health-food store

Continue reading the Winter, 2012 issue of Thrive.

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Turmeric & Cancer Treatment: Can Curcumin Help Fight Tumors?

Turmeric is perhaps the most widely researched dietary supplement of our time. In the golden age of natural medicine, it only fits that the best one we’ve found so far is often gold in color.

Most common as an addition to curry powders, turmeric spice offers a host of health benefits to help people of all ages maintain their mental and physical wellness. With so many convincing studies in the books, where does cancer fall on that list?

Can turmeric benefit cancer treatment? Do we have reliable evidence to suggest that turmeric can shrink tumors or help patients cope with the side effects of chemotherapy?

Turmeric and Cancer

We’ve seen sufficient research pointing to turmeric’s benefits in various autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and psoriasis. Science has even found turmeric useful for treating Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Today, there appears to be a mountain of evidence suggesting that curcumin can provide benefits for cancer patients, as well. To better understand how curcumin interacts with cancer cells, tumor growth, and chemoprevention, let’s explore cancer itself in more detail. (1)

What is Cancer?

Cancer is the designated term for a group of interrelated diseases characterized by the rapid and uncontrolled division of cells. It can start anywhere in the human body, which is composed of trillions of cells.

Normally, human cells divide or grow based on biological needs. When cells get damaged or grow old, they die, and new cells quickly replace them.

When cancer develops, the process becomes highly unstable. Old cells may survive instead of die-off. New cells arise, even if they are unneeded. When these extra cells divide without stopping, they often form growths known as tumors. There are two types of tumors to consider.

  • Benign: These tumors do not spread into or invade neighboring tissues. They are not seen as life-threatening unless they arise on the brain. Once surgically removed, benign tumors usually do not grow back.
  • Malignant: This type can be life-threatening. Malignant tumors can rapidly spread into nearby tissues. Some cancer cells can even break off and travel through the bloodstream to wreak havoc on distant locations in the body. If surgically removed, they can sometimes grow back.

Extensive research suggests there is a strong link between oxidative stress and inflammation, a mediator of chronic diseases such as cancer. Activation of pro-inflammatory transcription factors increases the chances of healthy cells transforming into tumor cells. Thus, lowering inflammation is one possible way to prevent cancer. (2, 3)

There are many possible causes of cancer—we won’t get into all of them. Certain risk factors can raise your odds of developing cancer, such as prolonged hypertension, elevated cholesterol levels, and diabetes.

In general, cancer is seen as a genetic disease caused by mutations in DNA that change how our cells function. Most notably, changes in how our cells grow and divide. (4)

Why Turmeric Curcumin?

The extracted curcumin within turmeric possesses potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. In numerous laboratory studies, the increased presence of antioxidants has shown an ability to inhibit the types of free radical cell damage linked to cancer development. Is curcumin one such antioxidant with cancer-fighting potential? (5)

In this post, we’ll analyze the studies surrounding curcumin’s capacity to fight cancer, shrink tumors, and serve as a chemopreventive measure.

Turmeric for Fighting Cancer: Can Curcumin Benefit Cancer Treatment?

Chemotherapy is, perhaps, the most common cancer treatment. The problem with chemotherapeutic agents is the toxicity they present to not only tumor cells, but also healthy cells in the body. Chemotherapy is costly, and it’s only used to treat cancer, not prevent it.

Prevention is where curcumin helps the most, but it can also manage the disease through numerous mechanisms of action. Research has shown that curcumin has the potential to kill tumor cells by modulating multiple cell signaling pathways. Turmeric also selectively targets tumor cells, not normal cells. (6)

There are a few different processes heavily involved in cancer growth and development that curcuminoids may influence. These items are:

  • Apoptosis: This term means “programmed cell death,” which is a vital process to eradicate dysfunctional cells efficiently. Malignant cells often evade apoptosis.
  • Proliferation: An increase in cell numbers resulting from cellular division and growth. In cancer, there is uncontrolled cell proliferation.
  • Angiogenesis: This term describes the formation of new blood vessels. Angiogenesis is a normal part of growth and healing. But, in cancer, it expedites nutrient and oxygen flow to tumors, increasing their growth rates.
  • Metastasis: Refers to the dispersion of cancer to parts of the body different from where it originated. During metastases, tumor cells can enter the lymphatic system or bloodstream and travel elsewhere in the body.
  • Inflammation: Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to DNA damage and sometimes cancer. Inflammation is the immune system’s response to irritants or foreign invaders.

Not only can curcumin have a positive influence on each of these factors, but it can do so in many different varieties of cancer. Studies show positive results in treating leukemia and lymphoma, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, and several other types. (7, 8)

In the past 50 years, curcumin’s anticancer potential has shown its ability to suppress proliferation, down-regulate inflammation transcription factors, and regulate gene expression. Studies also show turmeric can inhibit tumor initiation, growth, and metastasis. (9)

One study tested curcumin’s potential to impede laminin adhesion receptors, which play a significant role in the migration and invasion of cancer cells. The trial found that turmeric significantly reduced breast cancer cell motility (an organism’s ability to move freely) and invasion.

When paired with existing pharmacologic inhibitors, the blocking effect was even higher. The added benefit suggests that curcumin may have a positive influence on limiting the spread of breast cancer. Turmeric also helps breast cancer survivors with fibromyalgia if it develops after treatment or surgery. (10)

Another study used 25 patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. Patients received 8,000 mg of curcumin orally per day. In spite of turmeric’s low bioavailability (absorption), the study found statistically significant biological activity in a small number of patients. (11)

In cancer, the term “proteasome,” refers to cellular protein-degradation, which plays a crucial role in homeostasis. Cancer cells are known to inhibit cell death, promoting cell survival, and proliferation. Some cancer treatments use proteasome inhibitors to shift the equilibrium towards cell death.

Animal research found that curcumin may interfere with proteasome activity. The results of one study showed impaired cell proliferation and a reduced cancer burden in a group of tested mice. (12)

Further research examined turmeric’s capacity as a chemopreventive agent in patients with high-risk conditions or pre-malignant lesions. The study found a correlation between curcumin consumption and cancer prevention. Although not every patient experienced these benefits. (13)

Turmeric Cancer Dosage

In the previous study, each patient in the study started with a 500 mg dosage per day and gradually moved up to a maximum of 8,000 mg of curcumin per day. Anything beyond that was found to be intolerable for the patients. Up to 8,000 mg per day did not show any treatment-related toxicity.

So, what is the correct turmeric dosage for cancer? The answer is, it depends. There is no dosage guaranteed to cure the disease. Remember, curcumin can help treat and prevent cancer. It has even shown potential to kill tumor cells. But, even with such promising studies, we know that curcumin is not a cure.

Final Thoughts on Turmeric’s Anticancer Properties

Can turmeric benefit cancer? The answer appears to be, yes. While you may find some success stories or testimonials out there for curcumin, we can’t emphasize enough that curcumin is not meant to replace traditional treatment methods for cancer.

There is definite therapeutic value in adding turmeric to the treatment regimen, especially if you’re undergoing chemotherapy. Curcumin’s potential to inhibit cell growth paired with its anti-inflammatory properties makes it an excellent comrade to take into your battle with chemo.

  • Difference between turmeric vs. curcumin.

Studies have shown numerous mechanisms of action that curcumin has on cancer cells and tumor growth. Still, the results appear a bit inconsistent across the board. There is explicit biological activity occurring here, but the exact “how” is still somewhat up for debate. (14, 15)

If you’re considering a turmeric supplement, consult with your doctor or primary care physician to see if it can help improve your situation.

Turmeric And Cancer – Spicing Up A Good Prevention Strategy?

Can Turmeric Prevent Or Cure Cancer?

Turmeric and Cancer have been studied since the early 2000s, to understand whether an inherent component of Turmeric (Curcumin) can cause Tumor cell deaths. Many clinical trials have used Curcumin as an additional agent for patients undergoing Chemotherapy, and some have met with reasonable success; however the exact results remain inconclusive.

Turmeric and Cancer: Myth, Mystery and More

Based on a combination of available scientific data and folklore, there have been multiple articles on the internet about the ‘hidden benefits’ of Turmeric. In this article, I have attempted to seek and publish the opinions of the medical community, in order to arrive at an amicable truth.

Turmeric and Cancer: A History of Healing

Turmeric (also known as Indian saffron, jiang huang, haridra and haldi), is a homegrown spice native to many Asian countries. The turmeric plant belongs to the ginger family, and is used both as a spice and a major ingredient of commonly used curry powder. Since ages, it has been in use by herbal wellness practioners and Ayurveda evangelists, as a supplement that reduces inflammation, aids in treating intrinsic infections and a healing agent to external wounds. In India, a combination of warm milk and turmeric paste/powder (called Haldi Doodh) is quite popular as an early morning beverage, and as a pre-sleep meditative supplement, which, people claim, helps in boosting both immunity and metabolism.

Turmeric and Cancer: The Role Of Curcumin

An active ingredient in Turmeric, is called Curcumin or Diferuloyl Methane, which some laboratory studies have shown to have anti-cancer effects, on cancer/tumor cells.

Some time back, a Phase-I Clinical Trial was conducted, and Curcumin was administered to 25 patients with precancerous changes in different organs. This trial seemed to conclude that Curcumin could stop the “pre-cancerous changes” from becoming Cancer. Source of data: Cancer Research UK.

Throughout the last few years, multiple such clinical trials have tried to establish a direct link between Turmeric and Cancer, often supplementing regular treatments – such as Chemotherapy treatments in Breast Cancer patients(click here), with active Curcumin as an additional agent. You can find the complete list of such trials here, or by clicking on the link below.

Turmeric and Cancer: Antioxidant Properties

A publication on the NCBI PubMed portal suggests that Curcumin (the same active ingredient in Turmeric) has strong antixidant and anti-inflammatory properties, the effects of which can be seen in its ability to reduce inflammation in external injuries/wounds and boost the human body’s Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) among other benefits.

Another study by the Journal of Applied Toxology suggests that Curcumin can boost the anti-oxidant properties of the human body’s own enzymes.

The studies encapsulated above conclude that regular consumption of Turmeric in one’s diet can neutralize free radicals in the body (which would otherwise react with important organic substances, such as fatty acids, proteins or DNA), and stimulate the body’s self-secreted antioxidant enzymes.

By protecting the body against unwanted DNA changes, in effect, Turmeric consumption can/will reduce the chances of genetic mutations.

Turmeric and Cancer: Anti-Cancer Properties of Curcumin

Does Curcumin have anti-Cancer effects?

Numerous lab studies on Cancer cells and relevant clinical trials conducted between 2007-2016 have demonstrated, that Curcumin has certain anti-cancer effects. These results, although drawn from studies that involved less-than-optimal number of patients, show that Curcumin seems to be able to kill Cancer cells, in addition to preventing more from growing.

These studies suggest that Curcumin from Turmeric has the best kind of effects on patients suffering from Breast Cancer, Bowel Cancer, Stomach Cancer and Skin Cancer.

According to Cancer Research UK, the following studies have demonstrated reasonable cause to review and evaluate the anti-Cancer properties of Turmeric:

  • In 2013, an international laboratory study looked at the effects of combining Chemotherapy to target Bowel Cancer cells, with curcumin. The conclusion: The combined treatment (including Curcumin) might be better than chemotherapy alone.
  • In 2007, an American study on laboratory mice demonstrated that Curcumin helped in stopping the metastasis of Breast Cancer cells to other parts of the body.

Absorption of Turmeric

During these studies, researching doctors realized that Curcumin continues to stay in the digestive system for a long time, and is absorbed by the cells in the bowel. Consequently, a UK-based study involving the absorption of Curcumin from the human gut to liver cells, attempted to look at how much of the Curcumin is absorbed into both Cancer cells and normal (healthy) cells.

This was conducted on a very small focus group, of patients with Bowel Cancer that had metastasised to the liver. They were given Curcumin for 7 days before surgery.

During this surgery, doctors removed tissue samples from the liver, and measured the levels of curcumin in the extracted tissue. The results demonstrated that the level of Curcumin absorbed into the liver was not high enough to have any significant anticancer effects.

The researchers then suggested that all future Clinical Trials of Curcumin should focus on the preventionof Bowel tumors.

2008 – An Interesting Development

In 2008, a Phase-2 study was organized for Curcumin treatment with 25 patients, out of which 21 had measurable tumors. In two of these patients, the tumors either shrank, or remained the same size (did not spread).

For some of the enrolled subjects (patients), specific immune system chemical levels (chemicals that can attack and destroy Cancer cells) went up. However, the absorption of Curcumin into the bloodstream was minimal.

Scientists are now working on the development of injectable, fat-soluble forms of Curcumin in order to improve results.

Turmeric and Cancer: What Doctors Say On The Subject

While the studies mentioned above look promising at the outset, there is a clear lack of enough trial-based evidence before we can know for sure if Curcumin has any real potential to treat cancer in humans.

I had the good fortune of discussing this with our Co-founder Dr Amit Jotwani, who explained the concept beautifully. Doctors have a responsibility of administering the absolute right treatment to their patients. In accordance with this philosophy, they usually neither deny nor acknowledge any effects of an alternate therapy to treat Cancer, unless there is absolute scientific evidence backing up the claim.

At this time, Turmeric is not medically proven to be a Cancer-prevention supplement, nor is it approved as Cancer medication. People choosing to supplement their Cancer treatment with any alternate medication of this mature should definitely cross-check such suggestions with their consulting Oncologists, in order to remain aware of any potential conflicts with ongoing medication/side effects.

This is an employee-authored blog, and does not reflect the views/opinions of Onco.com as an organization/service.

Spice Up Your Health: Can Turmeric Help Fight Cancer?

By now, you’ve probably heard of turmeric — a popular spice that’s been used in cooking for centuries.

Turmeric is also known to help ailments including arthritis to anxiety. And some people consume turmeric in the hope that it will prevent or treat cancer.

While various internet accounts profess that turmeric can cure cancer, current research doesn’t support these bold claims. There’s some evidence that substances in turmeric kill cancer cells, but more studies need to be done.

RELATED: 8 Flavor-Packed Turmeric Tea Recipes to Try

What Exactly Is Turmeric?

Turmeric comes from the root of the turmeric plant, which is related to the ginger family and is grown throughout Asia and parts of Africa.

The flavorful spice is a staple in many Indian dishes, especially those that include curry and mustards.

There are more than 100 different compounds in turmeric. One of them, curcumin, is the active ingredient that produces most of the spice’s health benefits.

RELATED: Can Turmeric Help Prevent or Treat Type 2 Diabetes?

What Does the Research Say About Turmeric and Cancer?

Some research has shown the curcumin in turmeric may play a role in preventing cancer growth, killing cancer cells, and alleviating treatment side effects.

One way that curcumin is thought to work is by lowering levels of inflammation in the body.

“Chronic inflammation underlies most chronic diseases, cancer included,” says Lise Alschuler, ND, a professor of clinical medicine and an assistant director for the fellowship in integrative medicine at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson, Arizona. “Along with the lowered inflammation, quality of life improves.”

Studies have suggested that curcumin can inhibit enzymes such as cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), which are important for regulating inflammatory processes in the body. Abnormal levels of COX-2 or iNOS are associated with inflammatory disorders and certain cancers.

Lab studies have shown that curcumin uses various mechanisms to kill cancer cells and reduce the growth of new blood vessels in tumors. Authors of a review published in the AAPS Journal concluded that “its ability to kill tumor cells and not normal cells makes curcumin an attractive candidate for drug development.”

Other research reveals that adding curcumin to a chemotherapy regimen might make the treatment more effective. A study published in the journal PLoS One looked at the effects of curcumin and chemotherapy in a laboratory study on bowel cancer cells. The scientists found that the combined treatment was better than chemo alone.

While much of the research on curcumin and cancer has been done in the lab, there are some promising results in humans. In a study published in Clinical Cancer Research, investigators examined the effects of curcumin in people with pancreatic cancer. The participants received 8 grams (g) of curcumin by mouth daily. Results showed that the compound had “biological activity” in some patients. One individual even experienced a brief, but significant, tumor regression.

Turmeric may also protect healthy cells from damage caused by radiation therapy. In a study published in Radiation Research, scientists observed the effects of curcumin in 30 patients with breast cancer. They found that 6 g of oral curcumin taken daily during radiotherapy reduced the severity of radiation dermatitis (damage to the outer layers of the skin caused by radiation).

RELATED: 12 Scientific Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin

Limitations of Turmeric

Not all research has produced positive results when it comes to turmeric. Some studies have shown long-term use of turmeric didn’t have any effect on certain types of cancer.

One potential downside that several studies have highlighted is that curcumin isn’t absorbed easily by the body. Researchers are working to identify ways to resolve this problem.

Though turmeric is being studied as a cancer fighter, recent experiments have shown that the spice may interfere with how some chemo drugs work.

“It is important to always inform your doctor about your interest in curcumin so that they can make sure that there is no risk of interaction between the turmeric and the cancer treatment — this is increasingly the case with targeted molecular therapies,” Dr. Alschuler says.

RELATED: Can Eating Too Much Turmeric Pose Negative Side Effects?

How Do You Take Turmeric?

Turmeric comes in raw form and as a powder, paste, extract, or oil.

“For general health promotion, adding turmeric powder to your daily diet as a spice or even added to daily smoothies is appropriate. It is a key ingredient in curries, so this is a great way to ingest turmeric,” Alschuler says. “To obtain specific and more pronounced anti-inflammatory effects from turmeric, curcumin extracts are generally recommended.”

Exact dosages of curcumin for cancer prevention or therapy haven’t been established. In clinical studies, participants typically take supplemental doses of between 1 g and 6 g.

Some research has shown curcumin is safe to take at doses as high as 12 g per day over three months.

“It is recommended to consult with a knowledgeable healthcare provider to discover which form of curcumin would be best and what dose would be most helpful,” Alschuler says.

RELATED: Can Turmeric Help Prevent or Treat Type 2 Diabetes?

Turmeric Side Effects and Warnings

Although turmeric is generally safe, there are precautions you may want to take.

The spice can interfere with certain medications, such as blood thinners and blood-sugar-lowering drugs. Additionally, it may impact the effectiveness of chemotherapies.

Some people who take turmeric have reported stomach pain or an allergic reaction.

Tell your doctor about all health conditions you have and medicines you use before taking a turmeric supplement.

RELATED: 13 Herbs and Spices for Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptom Relief

The Bottom Line

Turmeric is a potent spice that could offer health benefits.

While some research shows it may be a cancer-fighter, more studies need to be done to confirm turmeric’s role in cancer prevention and treatment.

“An anti-inflammatory diet (such as the Mediterranean diet), regular exercise, sufficient restful sleep, stress management, and certain supplements, such as turmeric, are important components of risk reduction and as a part of an overall cancer treatment plan,” Alschuler says.

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