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Turmeric: The "Spice of Life" and Cancer Prevention

October 9th, 2010

Spice as Medicine...Turmeric

TurmericCurcumin is a polyphenoIic flavonoid compound derived from the rhizome of the herb Curcuma longa better known as the cooking spice turmeric. Turmeric has a very long history of use as a cooking spice and as a medicinal or healing herb in various traditional healing systems. Extensive research over the last half century has revealed some important medicinal qualities of its flavonoid compound curcumin.

Curcumin is the Flavonoid Compound in Turmeric

In vitro (cell cultures) and in vivo (animal and human) research has shown curcumin to have various medical activities. 

  • It is a very potent anti-inflammatory agent reducing the pain, swelling and tissue damage due to acute and chronic inflammatory responses. It does this by modifying the release of various pro-inflammatory chemicals such as cytokines and cytokine releasing factors like NF Kapa B. 
  • It is also a very potent antioxidant and has immunomodulatory capabilities. Most recently, extensive research has indicated curcumin to also be a strong anticancer agent not only useful for preventing cancer but also useful in treating cancer.

Curcumin as an Anticancer Agent

The anticancer potential of curcumin stems from its ability to suppress activation and proliferation of a wide variety of cancer cells by:

  1. Down-regulating transcription factors and the expression of pro-inflammatory chemicals that stimulate early cancerous changes in normal cells; 
  2. Down-regulating growth factor receptors and inhibiting certain enzymes (kinases) that stimulate the transformation and proliferation of cancer cells. 

This results in curcumin’s ability, as evidenced in many studies, to suppress three important and primary phases of cancer development: tumor initiation, promotion and metastasis.

Curcumin also “turns back on” the cancer cells’ “self-destruct” switch (apoptosis) that was turned off by the cancer process. When this self-destruct mechanism is turned back on, the cancer cells are less proliferative and become more responsive and less resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments. This means more cancer cells will die in response to chemotherapy or radiotherapy if curcumin is given before and throughout those therapies.

Actual clinical trials have shown curcumin to be a strong chemoprevention agent in colon and pancreatic cancer, cervical neoplasia and Barrets metaplasia (early cancerous changes in the esophagus). Clinical research with curcumin, along with the anti-metabolite, chemotherapeutic drug gemcitabine in the treatment of patients with advanced pancreatic carcinoma, produced an impressive response. Curcumin's potent anti-proliferative activity appears to potentiate the anti-tumor effect of gemcitabine.

Meriva: Safe and Effective

Curcumin, the Flavenoid Compound in Turmeric Available as MerivaAccumulating experimental evidence suggests that curcumin interferes with a variety of molecular targets and processes involved in cancer making it a promising natural agent in the prevention and co-treatment of cancer. Further, data obtained in multiple preclinical models, as well as in preliminary clinical trials, have documented minimal toxicity of curcumin, even at relatively high doses. However, some clinical studies with healthy volunteers revealed a low bioavailability of curcumin as it was not well absorbed from the bowel into systemic circulation or easily incorporated into the cells. This could be a problem when a therapeutic dose is needed in specific tissues of the body. So, research into methods to increase absorption and utilization of curcumin has been done and a particular form of curcumin named Meriva has been developed.

Meriva is curcumin formulated with phosphatidylcholine (a naturally occurring fat-soluble agent). The studies that followed showed Meriva to deliver higher systemic levels of the curcumin than simple, unformulated curcumin. Further studies have shown Meriva also increases the efficacy of curcumin as an anticancer agent because of its improved absorption and systemic delivery.

Take-aways...Curcumin as Meriva

Curcumin as Meriva can be a simple and nontoxic way to prevent cancer on a daily supplemental basis. If you have cancer and are undergoing treatment, Meriva can also be a reasonable and effective adjunct to that treatment. Talk to your health care practitioner about this. See what is possible for you.

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There's More to Learn About Curcumin / Meriva

Curcumin as Meriva
Turmeric Anti-Cancer Studies and other Benefits




Kunnumakkara AB, et al: “Curcumin inhibits proliferation, invasion, angiogenesis and metastasis of different cancers through interaction with multiple cell signaling proteins.” Cancer Letters. 2008; 269: 199-225.

Bar-Sela G, et al. “Curcumin as an anti-cancer agent: Review of the gap between basic and clinical applications.” Curr Med Chem. 2010 Jan; 17(3): 190-7.

Ravindran J, et al: “Curcumin and cancer cells: how many ways can curry kill tumor cells selectively?” AAPS J. 2009 Sep;11(3):495-510. Epub 2009 Jul 10.

Marczylo T, et al: “Comparison of systemic availability of curcumin with that of curcumin formulated with phosphatidylcholine.” Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2007 Jul;60(2):171-7. Epub 2006 Oct 19.

Bisht S, Maitra A: “Systemic delivery of curcumin: 21st century solutions for an ancient conundrum.” Curr Drug Discov Technol. 2009 Sep;6(3):192-9. Epub 2009 Sep 1.

About the Writer

Dr. Patrick Donovan of TheDispensaryOnline.comDr. Donovan is a Naturopathic Physician, author, educator, and a professor of clinical medicine at Bastyr University's Natural Health Clinic. In 2010 he was voted by his professional peers as one of Seattle’s Top Doctors in the Seattle Metropolitan Magazine. Dr. Donovan writes and lectures on the transformational process of healing and believes a person’s healing journey is ultimately a quest for his/her identity, purpose and meaning. He has more than 35 years of patient care experience as a Registered Nurse (RN) and a Naturopathic Physician (ND), representing a wide range of clinical settings from hospital-based surgical and intensive care as a registered nurse to outpatient primary care as a physician.

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October 9th, 2010 by Dr. Patrick Donovan

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