Turmeric - Curcumin & Cancer
According to WebMD "Turmeric is a spice that comes from the turmeric plant. It is commonly used in Asian food. You probably know turmeric as the main spice in curry. It has a warm, bitter taste and is frequently used to flavor or color curry powders, mustards, butters, and cheeses. But the root of turmeric is also used widely to make medicine. It contains a yellow-colored chemical called curcumin, which is often used to color foods and cosmetics. Turmeric is used for arthritis, heartburn (dyspepsia), joint pain, stomach pain, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, bypass surgery, hemorrhage, diarrhea, intestinal gas, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, jaundice, liver problems, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, stomach ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gallbladder disorders, high cholesterol, a skin condition called lichen planus, skin inflammation from radiation treatment, and fatigue. It is also used for headaches, bronchitis, colds, lung infections, fibromyalgia, leprosy, fever, menstrual problems, itchy skin, recovery after surgery, and cancers. Other uses include depression, Alzheimer's disease, swelling in the middle layer of the eye (anterior uveitis), diabetes, water retention, worms, an autoimmune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), tuberculosis, urinary bladder inflammation, and kidney problems. Some people apply turmeric to the skin for pain, ringworm, sprains and swellings, bruising, leech bites, eye infections, acne, inflammatory skin conditions and skin sores, soreness inside of the mouth, infected wounds, and gum disease. Turmeric is also used as an enema for people with inflammatory bowel disease."
Cancer treatment and turmeric
A number of laboratory studies on cancer cells have shown that curcumin does have anticancer 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.
A 2013 international laboratory study looked at the effects of a combined treatment with curcumin and chemotherapy on bowel cancer cells. The researchers concluded that the combined treatment might be better than chemotherapy alone.
A 2007 American study in mice seemed to show that curcumin helped to stop the spread of breast cancer cells to other parts of the body.
Doctors think that curcumin stays in the digestive system and is absorbed by the cells in the bowel. To find out more, a small study in the UK looked at how curcumin is absorbed from the human gut into liver cells. This study looked at how much of the curcumin is absorbed into both cancer cells and normal cells. This was a very small study of people with bowel cancer that had spread to the liver. They were given curcumin for 7 days before surgery.
During the surgery doctors removed liver tissue and they then then measured the levels of curcumin in the tissue. The results showed that the level of curcumin absorbed into the liver was not high enough to have any anticancer effect. The researchers suggested that future clinical trials of curcumin should focus on preventing bowel tumours. Several studies have shown that curcumin taken as capsules does get absorbed by the gut and is present in the blood. But the amount in the blood is small.
An American phase 2 study reported in 2008. 25 patients had curcumin treatment and 21 had tumours that could be measured. In 2 patients their tumours shrank or remained stable. In some patients their levels of particular immune system chemicals that destroy cancer cells went up. But the researchers found that blood levels of curcumin were very low because it is not well absorbed from the gut. Scientists have since developed injectable, fat soluble forms of curcumin which may improve the results.
These studies look promising but we need to do more clinical trials in humans before we will know if curcumin has any potential to treat cancer in people. A trial is currently under way in Puerto Rico to find out whether curcumin can shrink precancerous growths in patients with a genetic disorder that greatly increases their risk of bowel cancer.