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Does Curcumin Have Cancer Fighting Effects?

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Can Curcumin Combat the Spread of Cancer Cells?

Curcumin is getting a lot of hype in the health and wellness world right now. It is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and is even said to help stop the spread of cancer cells. But just how accurate is this?

Let's first take a look at what curcumin is and how it works. Curcumin is actually found in the root of the plant Curcuma longa, otherwise known as turmeric. In fact, the root of a turmeric plant has about 2-5% curcumin in it.

This vividly yellow substance is a member of the ginger family known as Zingiberaceae. While turmeric has been used as a healing spice for hundreds of years in India, it is only recently that curcumin extraction and use has become vastly popular. In 2014 alone, United States (where the market is most booming) curcumin sales topped $20 Million.

The reason curcumin sales are so high is not just because it goes well in many dishes; it has some long-established health benefits. What, exactly, are some of its most well-known healing properties? The ones that we will discuss in this article are:

  • Anti-oxidants

  • Anti-inflammation
  • The ability to fight off cancer cells

Curcumin has a lot of anti-oxidants, meaning it is able to fend off unwanted bodily inflammation. This serves as a good pain reliever, too. The truth is, most chronic illnesses (including cancer) involve ravaging inflammation, and fighting it off can be extremely difficult.

Scientifically speaking, curcumin works by suppressing the activation of a protein complex called NF-kB. NF-kB regulates the creation of pro-inflammation cytokines. It has also been found that curcumin inhibits the pro-inflammatory enzymes 5-LOX and COX-2, as well as a pro-inflammatory cytokine named TNF (tumor necrosis factor). It even limits the expression of inflammation-linked molecules involved in surface adhesion.

The thing about chronic disease is that it greatly exacerbates bodily inflammation. Inflammation is actually a normal response and can help us when we are ill or injured. But, when it gets triggered to excess by a chronic disease, it can cause all kinds of damage.

A lot of the synthetic drugs that you can take for inflammatory conditions only work on one pathway; curcumin works on many different inflammation pathways. Curcumin itself is a strong antioxidant, and it can stop free radicals throughout the body from causing chaos. And, the good thing is, it is easy to prepare as part of a yummy meal.

Cooking With Curcumin

How do you cook with Curcumin?

One dilemma you might have while considering adding curcumin to your daily regimen is whether you should just add it to your food or take it as a supplement.

Honestly, curcumin is a great addition to your diet, even if you aren't trying to stave off cancer. Not only does it fight off inflammation, but it tastes fantastic when prepared with the right recipes.

So, what are the most popular ways that people add curcumin into their food? It is a staple of many Thai, Indian, Indonesian, and Western dishes. In particular, you will find curcumin (which is typically listed as the ingredient turmeric) in curry dishes.

What exactly is curry? Most people who have eaten it before would tell you that it is kind of like a sauce or gravy. In fact, the word "curry" derives from the Tamil word for "sauce", "kari". There are actually thousands of different types of curry, and each style of curry has its own unique flavor.

Now, curry powder is actually a dry mix of various spices, which can include curcumin. This is a concept concocted by British soldiers returning home from India during British rule there. Essentially, what the British were trying to do was replicate Indian curry in a British fashion by throwing together a bunch of popular Indian ingredients.

Of course, that was not really curry's intended use. Instead, curry is used when you want to pay fry spices using oil. Raw curry spices (like curcumin) can have a pretty shocking taste, but heating them with oil lets those flavors combine and emerge.

Let us take a look at a few of the many types of curry.

First off, you have Southeast Asian curry, which is typically fused with coconut milk for an added hint of sweetness. Thailand in particular has found popularity with their massaman, green, and red curries.

You will find curry in Japan, as it was introduced via the British. The Japanese mix in vegetables and meat, to which the curry adds a good bit of spice. Middle Eastern countries also use curry with their meats, but they tend to prefer using small amounts of dry curries for flavoring.

To be certain, India has some of the most renowned curry dishes in the world. In India, you can find curry in chicken tikka masala, which is gaining a lot of ground in Western parts of the world.

The good news is that you don't have to go to India - or even to an Indian restaurant - to enjoy curcumin-infused curry. You can make it from the comfort of your own home. Starting off with chicken or butter chicken curry is the recommended route to take for newcomers. Chutney and freshly basked naan are often thrown in as sides to enjoy with a curry dish.

You don't have to eat curry to get your curcumin. Turmeric can be mixed with ginger to make a delicious tea that helps fight off inflammation.

If you like tofu or eggs, adding some curcumin into your scramble can create a flavorful meal. It also works really well with veggies like potatoes, cauliflower, and any root vegetable. You can even make a regular ol' rice dish or a fancier pilaf and add some curcumin to it.

Do you like smoothies? If so, you might be pleasantly surprised to find out that curcumin works really well when blended into a smoothie. For those of you who are dairy-free (as many of us are sine dairy can trigger inflammation), there are quite a few curcumin-based, dairy-free smoothie recipes available.

Since turmeric (and, therefore, curcumin) is fat-soluble, you can use it in a smoothie to help improve nutrient absorption in your body. Just blend in some chopped bananas, unsweetened coconut milk, vanilla extract, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, and a hint of salt and pepper, and you've got yourself one delicious - and healthy - smoothie.

Overall, curcumin has a long history of use and a lot of diversity. Scientists are not completely sure of its potential health benefits, but it certainly makes for an excellent addition to many types of meals.

Supplementing Curcumin

As mentioned above, turmeric contains about 2-5% curcumin. If you notice the desired benefits just from adding turmeric to your diet, wonderful! But if not, you will strongly want to consider taking supplements, which can deliver much more curcumin to your body.

Curcumin Benefits and Cancer Studies

New Enland Journal of Medicine

The nifty thing about the human body is that it will try its very best to fight off cancer. It does so through cancer-suppressing genes. When we are younger, it is easier for our bodies to fight off infections, but as we grow older, these genes become muted. Scientists are starting to find that curcumin might actually reverse this process.

To understand how curcumin benefits those who want to fend off cancer, you should have a basic understanding of how cancer happens. Our bodies are made up of trillions of cells, and somewhere between100-130 billion of them die every day. Cell death by apoptosis (suicide) or necrosis (injury) is normal and necessary for any organism to thrive.

Unfortunately, the body doesn't always function as it should. One of the triggers for tumor cell expansion is that they evade apoptosis. They also are insensitive to growth inhibitory signals, are self-sufficient with growth signals, are able to sustain angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels), invade tissues, have endless replication capabilities, and metatasize (meaning they spread to other areas of the body).

Cancer rates differ across the globe. Researchers theorize that the vast difference in rates is due to the consumption of curcumin. Is it mere coincidence that southeast Asia has the lowest cancer rates and highest consumption of curcumin?

Curcumin has been a staple of Ayurvedic, Siddha, and Unani medicine for ages. It is only recently that researchers started studying its healing effects, particularly in relation to cancer. One such study found that topical administration of curcumin on mice reduced the presence of tumors by 18-25%. Other studies (by Huang et. al and Conney et. al) performed on mice found that curcumin prevented the promotion of tumor cells.

As Ravindran, Prasad, and Aggarwal found, curcumin can bind to up to 33 different proteins, including 5-LOX, NF-kB, and COX2. In fact, it seems that curcumin is able to induce cell death in about 40 biomolecules.

The neat thing about curcumin is that it does not seem to kill of normal cells. It guns directly for tumor cells. This is why scientists are so keen on researching curcumin as a potential cancer treatment. Several clinical trials and many animal-based tests have been done on curcumin as an annihilator of tumor cells, and the results are pretty positive. Still, a lot more testing needs to be done to really analyze the benefits of curcumin.

Curcumin Side Effects and Precautions For Cancer Patients

So, does curcumin have any side effects? Are there any precautions that cancer patients should take while using curcumin? The answer to both of these questions is "yes", but it is not a universal answer.

We need to separate the side effects of turmeric and curcumin here. It is important to note that pure turmeric seems to be safe for most people, but turmeric powders have been found to contain a lot of inexpensive fillers and even lead. Hence, using turmeric in its pure form is recommended over a powdered mixture.

The side effects of turmeric are fairly upfront and mostly based on whether you are using a powdered mixture. As turmeric has approximately 2% oxalate, those with predispositions to kidney stones should not use it in high quantities. 

Turmeric powders can be especially dangerous for people with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance since they are loaded with fillers such as rye, barley, and wheat flour. They also tend to include food colorants that are meant to improve the turmeric's color, as flour can dilute it. Acid yellow 36 is found in a lot of Indian turmeric mixes and, in animal-based studies, was found to cause neurological damage and even cancer. Just know that acid yellow 36 is illegal to use in Europe and the United States.

As for curcumin itself, it is considered to be relatively safe for most people to consume. However, there are individuals who cannot consume large quantities of it, as it can cause mild to moderate side effects.

These side effects, as found in one study can include:

  • Skin rashes (Although this is rare, participants in one study reported skin rashes after taking 8,000 mg or higher doses of curcumin.)

  • Nausea and headaches (in doses of 450 mg or higher)
  • Gastrointestinal issues (such as bloating and diarrhea, when taken in excess of 1,000 mg per day)

Those already taking prescription medications or other dietary supplements should take note that curcumin might interact with them. There do not seem to many validated drug interactions, but this is still a possibility given our limited knowledge of how curcumin - especially in higher dosages - will act.

There is also reason for pregnant or breastfeeding women to take caution, as its impact on unborn children is not yet known. It is always better to play it safe. If you are unsure about whether you should take curcumin based on any medical condition you have or dietary supplement or medication you take, ask your doctor for their advice.

As of right now, it seems that high doses of curcumin might be problematic for some people. Lower doses appear to present very few side effects for most of the people who consume them. All in all, curcumin is one of those substances that is likely safe in moderation.

What does research say about Curcumin and it's health benefits?

Curcumin Research & Facts Related to Cancer

Although we have spent a lot of time talking about curcumin in relation to cancer, we should probably expound upon a few more important facts and the research that is being done.

Why don't we start off with some facts about curcumin that have not already been discussed?

Take, for example, a study conducted in 2008 that showed higher doses of curcumin seemed to help fend off pancreatic cancer cells in particular. Since a higher degree of bioavailability was required, researchers created a supplement called Theracurmin.

This supplement is marketed as being the best absorbed type of curcumin out there. However, more testing needs to be done to determine just how well Theracurmin truly works. Either way, it shows some promise for fighting off cancer cells.

As far as bioavailability of curcumin goes, only about 1% of it becomes bioavailable after a human being orally takes it. That is not too helpful for trying to combat those pesky and powerful tumor cells. In fact, about 40% of curcumin ends up coming out in your feces, completely unchanged in its form.

Scientists have tried many different ways to negate the problem of bioavailability. Everything has been done, from liposomal curcumin to adding in some adjuvant (a substance that improves the immune system's response to an antigen). They have even gone the route of creating curcumin nanoparticals.

A synthetically created form of curcumin, known as dimethoxycurcumin, is shown to generate apoptosis in Caki cells. It is considered to be quite potent and has a high number of molecular targets. The verdict is, of course, still out on whether dimethoxycurcumin (DMC for short) is completely effective at killing cancer cells.

As part of their review, researchers Susan J. Hewlings and Douglas S. Kalman noted that a lot of the curcumin studies out there were conducted on people with known health conditions, not on healthy populations. They did, however, note that one study done on healthy adults between the ages of 40 and 60 years of age yielded some interesting results.

In that study, participants were given curcumin or a placebo for four weeks straight. By the end of those four weeks, the group who received the curcumin dosages (80 mg per day of curcumin in a 400 mg powder) experienced lowered triglyceride levels and salivary amylase activity, which typically serves as an indicator for stress. Additionally, beta amyloid plaque (which is linked with brain aging) and plasma alanine amino transferase activities (which can indicate liver damage) were found to be lessened.

As this study suggests, curcumin might be beneficial for healthy people, not just people who already have cancer or vast amounts of bodily inflammation. It has a lot of preventative potential, which, when given in low dosages, could keep healthy people in good health as they get older.

Alzheimer's Disease (AD) comes up in some curcumin research since cancer can lead to cognitive decline. Studies have found that about 70% of cancer patients exprience cognitive impairment. One study reports that more women who were treated with chemotherapy for breast cancer received dementia diagnoses years down the line than those who didn't.

Given that curcumin demonstrates strong neuroprotective capabilities, some cancer researchers are now looking into curcumin as both a cancer fighting substance and a way to prevent dementia down the line. The research out there on this topic right now is fairly limited, but more studies could possibly show a link between curcumin supplementation and prevention of cognitive decline in those who get diagnosed with cancer.

On a particularly juicy note, there is one noted curcumin researcher who came under scrutiny not too long ago for some of the research he had published. Bharat Aggarwal of University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center had 19 research papers retracted due to fraudulent charges by April of 2018. He even falsely stated that a cancer conference in India held in February of 2018 was sponsored by the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

This last bit of information is a good reminder for all of us who are looking into curcumin research for help healing ourselves that not all research is done with the best of intentions. All research has biases, even that regarding curcumin. Still, that cannot take away from the numerous peer-reviewed studies which demonstrate curcumin's potential healing and preventative capabilities.

Conclusion

Curcumin is such a commonly used substance, yet we still do not know just how much this turmeric-derived polyphenol can do for preventing and maybe even curing cancer. It certainly has a lot of potential, as the research done to date suggests.

Of course, the studies that have been done so far are limited. How well does curcumin work on the average healthy human being? It is hard to be sure since studies have mainly been done on rodents, and the few clinical trials completed were mostly on adult humans with chronic health conditions.

Still, the fact of the matter is that curcumin seems able to treat a lot of different health conditions due to its unique chemical make-up. It improves your body's nutrient absorption capabilities, attacks invading free radicals, and thereby reduces the amount of inflammation you experience.

Are you ready to give curcumin a try? If so, you can start off by slowing adding curcumin into your diet. The recommended daily turmeric dosage for treating inflammation is 500 to 1,000 mg of curcuminoids or, when used on its own, 200 mg in a single teaspoon. The typical Indian diet involves a daily consumption of about 60-100 mg of curcumin every day, but you will likely need to start off with a much smaller dosage and build up from there.

Or you can begin taking curcumin supplements. Please see Top List on our site for products we have researched. 

To sum it all up, curcumin is something that many people find helps them heal. Like any substance, it will not work the same for everyone. Follow your doctor's or nutritionist's orders when it comes to supplementing your diet with curcumin, and remember that you need to give it time to do its work.

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