Curcumin

Also known by these names

  • Diferuloylmethane

Key Points

  • Curcumin is a natural constituent of the seasonings turmeric and curry powder.
  • BCCT is interested in curcumin’s promising role in reducing risk and treating cancer and in improving the quality of life for cancer patients.
  • Curcumin has been used along with chemotherapy treatments, with results showing that it enhances the effectiveness of several chemotherapy drugs.
  • Curcumin is generally regarded as safe by the US FDA, and clinical trials confirm the safety at doses up to 12 grams per day.
  • Curcumin is readily available in seasonings and as a supplement.
  • Curcumin’s anticancer effects have been seen in colon and colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, cervical neoplasia, chronic myeloid leukemia, and Barrets metaplasia.

Curcumin is the major constituent and the active component in turmeric, a seasoning used frequently in Indian and other South Asian cuisines and a main ingredient in curry powder.

Curcumin is not readily absorbed by the intestine, but consumption with either pepper or fats is noted to increase absorption.1 However, some sources advise taking turmeric supplements on an empty stomach. Some sources also advise caution in using piperine (the active ingredient in pepper) with certain prescription medications and/or long-term, as described below. Differing advice may derive from different formulations in supplements.2 Consult your physician and the directions on a supplement for guidance.

A liposomal form of curcumin—in which an extract of pure curcumin is placed into a small bubble made of at least one lipid (fatty) layer  resembling the wall of a cell—is available. Studies of liposomal curcumin have shown greater effects inhibiting tumor growth and promoting apoptosis (programmed cell death) with cancer cells.3 Other curcumin derivatives have been developed to increase absorption and show promising laboratory effects.4

Treating the Cancer

Working against cancer growth or spread, improving survival, or working with other treatments or therapies to improve their anticancer action

Preliminary findings from many small and uncontrolled studies indicate that curcumin is effective in treating cancer.5

Anti-inflammatory Effects

  • Curcumin is known for anti-inflammatory effects.6

Anticancer Activity

Clinical Evidence

  • In two small studies, curcumin reduced disease markers in patients with multiple myeloma and cervical neoplasia.7
  • In several small trials in humans, curcumin has shown anticancer effects with some—but not all—patients with several types of cancer. In one trial, curcumin was combined with soy isoflavones.8
  • A combination of curcumin and soy isoflavones decreased PSA levels in patients with PSA of 10 or higher.9

Lab and Animal Evidence

Read more

Conventional Therapy Enhancer

Clinical Evidence

  • Curcumin has sensitized tumors to chemotherapeutic agents including doxorubicin, 5-FU, paclitaxel, vincristine, melphalan, butyrate, cisplatin, celecoxib, vinorelbine, gemcitabine, oxaliplatin, etoposide, sulfinosine, thalidomide, and bortezomibm while also protecting normal organs such as liver, kidney, oral mucosa, and heart from chemotherapy and radiotherapy-induced toxicity23
  • Curcumin has enhanced the toxicity of oxaliplatin in malignant cells.24
  • Curcumin has been shown to restore or promote certain gene expression or activity that suppresses cancer cell growth, survival and resistance to chemotherapy agents.25
  • Curcumin reduces multidrug resistance and dose-limiting cytotoxicity of 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU).26
  • Curcumin sensitizes pancreatic cancer cells to gemcitabine.27
  • Curcumin potentiated the effect of bortezomib against human multiple myeloma.28
  • A study of chronic myeloid leukemia patients found curcumin (turmeric powder) increased the effectiveness of the chemotherapy imatinib treatment as shown in cancer markers.29

Lab and Animal Evidence

Read more

Managing Side Effects and Promoting Wellness

Managing or relieving side effects or symptoms, reducing treatment toxicity, supporting quality of life or promoting general well-being

Clinical Evidence

Small trials show curumin is effective in promoting wellness, improving quality of life and reducing symptoms.35

  • Curcumin reduced the severity of radiation dermatitis in breast cancer patients, although not all studies have found a significant effect..36
  • A study of 160 cancer patients undergoing either chemotherapy or radiotherapy assessed whether a proprietary delivery system of curcumin (Meriva®) reduced treatment symptoms such as nausea, constipation, diarrhea, weight loss, soreness and ulceration. Those receiving the curcumin treatment reported a significant reduction in symptoms compared to a control group.37

Reducing Risk

Reducing the risk of developing cancer or the risk of recurrence

Clinical Evidence

  • Interfered with breast cancer proliferation in both preclinical and clinical studies38
  • Curcumin treatment in West Bengal, India, was shown to have some protective role against the DNA damage caused by arsenic.39

Lab and Animal Evidence

  • Indications of suppressed or even regressed tumor growth40
  • Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, interfering with known contributors to cancer development41
  • Indications of suppressed or even regressed tumor growth, including breast tumors42
  • Chemopreventive effects against prostate cancer in mice43

Access

Foods containing curcumin—turmeric and curry powder—are widely available in grocery stores. Supplements containing cucumin or turmeric powder are also widely available.

Cautions

Curcumin is generally regarded as safe by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Epidemiological evidence and several clinical trials confirm the safety of curcumin up to 12 grams per day over several months.44 However, compounds in curcumin can bind to iron and reduce iron's availability, a concern to people with anemia or iron-storage problems. Iron levels may need to be monitored with curcumin supplement use.45

Preliminary clinical evidence shows that cucrumin may slightly reduce the effectiveness of tamoxifen.46 Dr. Lise Alschuler cautions that curcumin should not be taken with some drugs (cyclophosphaide, anastrozole, exemestane, letrozole or erlotinib, or therapeutic doses of warfarin),47 and the TRC Natural Medicines database lists several interactions with chemotherapy drugs, diabetes medications and other drugs that lower blood sugar, estrogens, drugs that slow blood clotting, and other drugs. Medical supervision is recommended at doses higher than those typically found in foods.

Dr. Weil and Alina Health provide these cautions:48

  • Don’t use turmeric if you have gallstones, bile duct dysfunction, hyperacidity, or stomach ulcers..
  • Pregnant or lactating women shouldn’t use turmeric supplements without their doctors’ approval.
  • In rare cases, extended use can cause stomach upset or heartburn.
  • Piperine can slow the elimination of some prescription drugs including phenytoin (Dilantin), propranolol (Inderal), and theophylline. Some evidence also suggests that curcumin can interfere with certain chemotherapy drugs used to treat breast cancer, so if you’re being treated for this disease, be sure to discuss the advisability of taking curcumin with your physician.

Dosing

BCCT does not recommend therapies or doses, but provides information for patients and providers to consider as part of a complete treatment plan. Patients should discuss therapies with their physicians, as contraindications, interactions and side effects must be evaluated. Levels of active ingredients of natural products can vary widely between and even within products. See Quality and Sources of Herbs, Supplements and Other Natural Products.

Dosage recommendations are available from these sources:

Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems

For more information about programs and protocols, see our Integrative Programs and Protocols page.
  • Programs and protocols
    • Alschuler & Gazella complementary approaches49
      • Bladder cancer
      • Brain cancer
      • Breast cancer
      • Cervical cancer
      • Colorectal cancer
      • Lung cancer
      • Melanoma
      • Ovarian cancer
      • Pancreatic cancer
      • Prostate cancer
      • Detoxification
      • Immune enhancement
      • Anti-inflammation
      • Radiation sensitizer
    • Bastyr University Integrative Oncology Research Center protocol for stage IV breast cancer50
    • Block program51
      • Anti-inflammatory terrain modifier
      • Coagulation terrain modifier
      • Surgical support program (wound healing)
      • Radiation support program (mucositis)
      • Post-treatment program (targeting cancer progression pathways)
      • Rehabilitation program (reducing inflammatory response)
      • Targeted molecular therapies
      • Chemopreventive (breast, colon, pancreatic cancers, melanoma)
    • Lemole, Mehta & McKee protocols52
      • Bladder cancer
      • Breast cancer
      • Colorectal cancer
      • Endometrial cancer
      • Leukemia
      • Lung cancer
      • Lymphoma
      • Melanoma
      • Prostate cancer
      • Renal cancer
      • Thyroid cancer
    • McKinney protocols53
      • General cancer
      • Breast cancer
      • Bladder cancer
      • Brain/nerve cancer
      • Carcinoid/neuroendocrine cancer
      • Cervical cancer
      • Colorectal cancer
      • Esophageal cancer
      • Gallbladder cancer
      • Head and neck cancer
      • Kidney cancer
      • Leukemia
      • Liver cancer
      • Lung cancer
      • Lymphoma
      • Melanoma
      • Myelodysplastic syndrome
      • Ovarian cancer
      • Sarcoma
      • Stomach cancer
      • Thyroid cancer
  • Traditional systems

Commentary

Dr. Andrew Weil advises: “Neither curcumin nor turmeric taken orally is well absorbed unless taken with black pepper or piperine, a constituent of black pepper responsible for its pungency. When shopping for supplements, make sure that the one you choose contains black pepper extract or piperine.”54 However, both Dr. Weil and naturopathic oncologist Lise Alschuler caution that use of piperine may interact with a wide range of prescription medications. Dr. Alschuler does not advise long-term use of piperine.55

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND, January 23, 2018: The vast majority of studies on turmeric/curcumin have been in cell studies and rodent studies, and mostly with amounts that are unlikely to be consumed in humans who simply add turmeric as a culinary spice. Human studies are really limited.

I've seen one human study show reductions in TNF-alpha (the inflammatory signaling protein) with only 150 mg of curcumin/day—but I'm not sure how to translate the TNF-alpha change as to whether it was clinically significant. Other studies I've seen and as reviewed in the Natural Medicines Database tend to use 1000 to 4000 mg/day of curcumin (and some studies use much more).

Non-cancer Uses of Curcumin

BCCT has not reviewed the effectiveness of this therapy for non-cancer uses.

  • Infections
  • Inflammation
  • Kidney stones
  • Gastrointestinal gas

Written by Nancy Hepp, MS, with review by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS; last updated on April 18, 2019.

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