Curcumin has been more widely-documented in the scientific literature for its anti-cancer effects than any other nutrient.
Curcumin is a derivative of the spice turmeric, the yellow-orange pigment that gives curry dishes their distinctive colour.
Extensively studied, it has been found to have multiple health benefits and is consequently growing in popularity as a dietary supplement. Each 100g of turmeric contains 3-5g of curcumin.
Traditional Chinese and Indian systems of medicine have been taking advantage of this natural compound’s therapeutic benefits for thousands of years. Curcumin is particularly associated with powerful anti-inflammatory properties, chronic inflammation being widely-recognised as an underlying factor in many, if not all, chronic diseases. Curcumin has been shown to influence the expression of more than 700 genes, which may partly explain its many health benefits.
Thus curcumin’s effects extend well beyond those relating to cancer, though it is indeed its potential as an anti-cancer agent which I’ll discuss here. At the end of this article you’ll also find a list of everyday, cancer-preventive measures.
Curcumin shown to be effective in mice against deadly form of brain cancer
In an article in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry in July 2011, researchers suggested curcumin could be the answer to stopping a deadly form of brain cancer called glioblastoma. Building on previous findings, their study on mice showed that curcumin reduced tumour size in 9 of the 11 animals studied (81%), with no evidence of toxicity (1).
What’s more, the curcumin did not affect healthy cells, indicating that it selectively targets cancer cells. The researchers also found it worked synergistically with two chemotherapy drugs, increasing the elimination of cancer cells.
The authors stated:
"In summary, the data presented here suggest curcumin is a potential agent for treating glioblastomas".
One of the BEST supplements for many cancers
In fact, doctors have been aware of curcumin’s cancer therapy potential for some years – in this context, it has featured in the scientific literature more than any other nutrient.
A study published in 2008, in the scientific journal Cancer Prevention Research, found that curcumin reduced the motility (ability to move) and spread of breast cancer cells by inhibiting the function of integrin alpha 6 beta 4. This suggests it could be an effective therapeutic agent against tumours that over-express integrin alpha 6 beta 4, a molecule associated with cancer progression by contributing to apoptosis resistance and metastasis. Apoptosis is programmed cell death: cancer cells are characterised by the fact they do not die when they should, which obviously contributes to tumour development.(2)
In 2009, a study published in the scientific journal Molecular Pharmacology found that curcumin inhibits growth of pancreatic cancer cells and increases cell sensitivity to chemotherapy. (3)
Other research in 2009 noted that it promotes apoptosis in lung cancer cells. (4)
And a study in 2010 concluded that curcumin has the potential to target cancer stem cells. (5)
How does curcumin combat cancer?
In India, where turmeric is a very popular cooking ingredient, the prevalence of four cancers common in the West - colon, breast, prostate and lung - is 10 times lower. In fact, prostate cancer, which is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in European men, is rare in India and this is partly attributed to consumption of turmeric. It appears that curcumin combats cancer in a number of different ways. It:
– inhibits tumour cell proliferation;
– helps destroy mutated cells and so prevents them from spreading throughout the body;
– inhibits the conversion of normal cells into tumour cells;
– reduces inflammation;
– prevents the development of tumour-nourishing blood vessels;
– inhibits synthesis of a protein considered essential for tumour formation.
Which type of turmeric is best?
To fully benefit from curcumin’s benefits, choose a supplement with 100% certified organic turmeric extract, containing at least 95% curcuminoids. The formulation should be free from additives and excipients (substances added to facilitate processing or preservation) and the manufacturer should ensure quality at each stage of production: unpolluted soil, planting, cultivation, selective harvesting, production and packaging of the final product.
For cooking, choose a pure turmeric rather than curry powder – and preferably organic. One study has shown that curry powders tend to contain very little curcumin, compared with turmeric powder.
Recommendations for using curcumin
There are currently no commercially-available formulations for use against cancer, and you should know a high dose is necessary since curcumin is not very well-absorbed by the body. A typical anti-cancer dose may be as much as 3 grams of a good, bioavailable curcumin extract, three to four times a day.
To get round this problem, you can make a micro-emulsion by mixing one tablespoon of curcumin powder with one or two egg yolks, and a teaspoon or two of melted coconut oil, using an electric blender to emulsify the mixture.
Another strategy that can help increase absorption of curcumin is to add a tablespoon of curcumin powder to 12.5 cl of boiling water (it must be boiling when you add the powder - it will not work as well if the water’s tepid). After boiling it for 10 minutes you’ll have a 12% solution, which you can drink once it has cooled. You’ll find it has a woody taste. Bear in mind that the concentration in curcumin will gradually decrease. After six hours it will be a 6% solution, so it’s best to drink it within four hours of boiling.
Be careful about staining:
curcumin is a very potent yellow pigment and this solution could indelibly stain fabrics and some plastics (kitchen equipment).
Preventing cancer: 11 tips to reduce your risk
Over the last 30 years, global cancer has doubled and estimates suggest it could even triple by 2030. Clearly, we need to start taking cancer prevention
While curcumin’s potential against cancer is indeed impressive, we must not forget that a healthy lifestyle – rather than swallowing any number of supplements – is the BEST way to avoid becoming yet another cancer statistic. I firmly believe that you can potentially eliminate your risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, and radically improve your chances of recovery if you already have it, by following these risk reduction strategies:
– drastically reduce your consumption of sugar and starch. In this way you can normalise your blood levels of insulin, the anti-sugar hormone, and this is one of the most effective steps you can take to lower your risk of cancer. To this end, reducing your consumption of sugar, cereals and potatoes should be a priority. It’s particularly important to eliminate fructose (wheat syrup) – to below 10g a day from all sources if you have cancer.
– Optimise your vitamin D levels to between 50 and 70 ng/ml. There is overwhelming evidence that vitamin D deficiency plays a key role in cancer development. Researchers in this field have estimated that around 30% of cancer deaths could be prevented each year by optimising vitamin D levels in the general population (6). On a personal level, you can more than halve your risk of cancer by simply exposing your skin to the sun all year round. You can also take a good oral vitamin D3 supplement, although the sun is still the best way to increase your vitamin D. If you’re being treated for cancer, you’ll probably benefit from having higher blood levels of vitamin D (80-90 ng/ml).
– Take regular exercise: There is compelling evidence that physical exercise significantly decreases your risk of cancer, primarily by reducing insulin levels and normalising oestrogen. For example, women who exercise regularly can lower their risk of breast cancer by 20-30% in comparison with inactive women. The exercise doesn’t need to be intensive, but it should be frequent and varied.
– Fast periodically: This can help overall healing processes and can even have a rejuvenating effect by helping the body to get rid of dead and diseased cells and toxins.
– Increase your intake of animal-source omega 3 fatty acids;
– Eat plenty of vegetables: ideally fresh and organic, prioritising brightly-coloured vegetables, particularly green leafy vegetables and crucifers, ie, all kinds of cabbage as well as radishes and watercress, which have potent anti-cancer properties.
– Choose a technique that suits you to reduce any negative emotions that could activate cancer genes. 85% of cancers may be caused by poorly-managed emotions. Yoga, prayer, meditation, and sophrology are all methods of helping to restore inner equilibrium.
– Maintain an ideal weight;
– Make sure you get enough good-quality sleep;
– Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins: such as pesticides, household chemical products, air fresheners, air pollution and plastic toxins such as bisphenol A;
– Restrict your use of mobile phones and other wireless appliances,
– Use healthier cooking methods – poaching, steaming, and boiling rather than frying. And never barbecue.
(1) J Nutr Biochem. 2012 Jun;23(6):591-601.
(2) Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2008 Oct;1(5):385-91.
(3) Mol Pharmacol. 2009 Jul;76(1):81-90.
(4) Biol Pharm Bull. 2010;33(8):1291-9.
(5) Cancer Lett. 2010 Jul 1;293(1):65-72.
Dr Joseph Mercola, "The Cancer-Fighting Spice So Potent - It Even Beat Brain Tumors in Mice...", 2011.