Harvest the Power of Curcumin To Kill Breast Cancer Cells

Image source: freedigitalphotos.net / Sommai

Image source: freedigitalphotos.net / Sommai

Harvest The Power Of Curcumin To Kill Breast Cancer Cells

The world now has plenty of information about how the root turmeric packs a punch against cancer cells through the active pigment within it, known as curcumin.  I just read that in the last 10 years, over 4,600 research studies have been done on curcumin and some of those studies are revealing some very interesting information on exactly how curcumin works against cancer.

One of the most interesting things we have learned about curcumin is that it has chemopreventive action, which means that it is able to interfere with a disease process.  Chemopreventive agents are used to inhibit, delay or reverse carcinogenesis, the process by which normal cells turn into cancer cells.

Curcumin Works In Many Different Ways

Chemopreventive agents are broken down into 3 sub-groups: antioxidants, anti-proliferants and carcinogen blockers.  Curcumin has the distinction of being in all three sub-groups – meaning that it works against cancer in these three different ways.  It also works in several different pathways of the body that regulate programmed cell death, which is also important.

The human body consists of 10-13 trillion cells – that’s one million million!  These cells turn over, on average, approximately every 100 days.  Some cells, for instance skin cells, take much less time to regenerate, and some take more, like bone cells.   About 100 billion cells have to die every day to make room for the new crop, through a process called apoptosis (pronounced a-pop-TOE-sis).

The problem with cancer cells is that they don’t die off through that natural process of apoptosis when they are supposed to. They just keep growing and multiplying, out of control.  They do this by somehow turning off the genes necessary to cause apoptosis.

Curcumin To The Rescue!

We now have some great research which shows all of the ways that curcumin spells death to cancer cells.   It is able to do this in so many ways, for a complete understanding you’ll need to read the research paper listed at #6 below.  Here are a dozen of the most important ways curcumin protects our cells:

  1. Curcumin upregulates various death receptors, cell surface receptors that transmit “die” signals to cancer cells;
  2. Curcumin upregulates the FAS receptor, which plays a central role in the regulation of apoptosis, programmed cell death;
  3. Curcumin activates certain enzymes which destroy cancer cells from within;
  4. Curcumin increases tumor cell sensitivity to chemotherapy and radiation therapy;
  5. Curcumin inhibits cancer cell division, growth and metastasis;
  6. Curcumin increases cancer cell death;
  7. Curcumin inhibits tumor cell survival;
  8. Curcumin inhibits growth of blood vessels to tumors, a process known as angiogenesis;
  9. Curcumin is strongly anti-inflammatory;
  10. Curcumin acts as an antioxidant;
  11. Curcumin inhibits carcinogenic agents;
  12. Curcumin protects normal tissues (liver, kidney, mucous membranes, heart, etc) from the harmful effects of radiation and chemotherapy.

Why curcumin kills tumor cells and leaves healthy cells alone is not well understood but this is indeed the case.  Tumor cells also don’t appear to develop a resistance to curcumin the way they tend to do with chemotherapy drugs.  This makes curcumin a very useful therapeutic supplement both for those wishing to keep cancer away, and for those actively battling cancer.

Curcumin and HER2 Positive Breast Cancer

One of the most interesting research studies I found indicated that curcumin has potent effects against the HER2 oncoprotein.  For those with this sort of breast cancer, this is very good news.  It was found that the combination of the chemotherapy drug taxol and curcumin had an antitumor effect comparable with taxol and Herceptin, the drug that targets the HER2 oncoprotein and most commonly prescribed for those with HER2 positive breast cancer. 5

Curcumin Enhances Action of Tamoxifen 

I am frequently asked whether curcumin can be taken along with Tamoxifen, the most-prescribed anti-estrogen drug for those with estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer. The short answer is yes, curcumin actually enhances the effectiveness of Tamoxifen, the two appear to work synergistically. In fact, curcumin can restore sensitivity to cells that have become resistant to Tamoxifen. 6  Just be aware that a 2012 study found that combining curcumin with Tamoxifen reduced a protein made by the liver known as albumin.  7 Albumin transports hormones, vitamins, drugs and other nutrients throughout the body. So my suggestion would be not to take curcumin and Tamoxifen at the same time, take them a few hours apart from each other.

What Is An Effective Dose?

This is the most asked question for integrative doctors, naturopaths and health coaches.  And of course, we don’t all agree, nor are there conclusive studies which indicate what the therapeutic dose is.  But please read on!

According to Dr Brian Lawenda (a very talented integrative oncologist, Dr Lawenda has an excellent website, see the link below at #1), one study indicated that up to 8 grams (8,000 mg) per day for three months was an effective dose to reduce the progression of precancerous lesions of the mouth, skin, stomach and cervix.

Another study indicated that curcumin is poorly absorbed by the bowel but able to concentrate in intestinal tumors quite well in patients with advanced colorectal cancer.  These patients took 3.6 grams/day of curcumin orally for 7 days.

From all of the reading and research I have done in the past years, this is what I have learned about therapeutic dosing of curcumin and this is what I recommend for my clients:

Curcumin Dosage Advice:

1.  Absorption of curcumin can be increased when taken with piperine, which is an extract from black pepper.  Combining these two has been shown to increase curcumin absorption by up to 2,000 percent.  Certain health supplement companies have created formulations that have greater absorption characteristics, and I will link to my favorite curcumin supplement below.
2.  To maintain high blood levels of curcumin and receive the best effects, it is best to take it in divided doses, three times per day – and with meals – as it is better absorbed with food that contains healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, oily fish, avocados, full fat (organic) milk, walnuts, seeds, etc.
3.  Dr Brian Lawenda recommends that for the purposes of preventing cancer, 500 mg per day is suggested and, indeed, the doctor known as the Curcumin Guru (and one of the co-authors of research reference 8 below) takes this dosage.  During and after cancer treatment, Dr Lawenda advises taking 800-3,000 mg per day, in divided doses, with meals.
4.  The latest scuttlebutt amongst natural health professionals indicates that the whole turmeric root (it looks a lot like ginger) is even more potent.  In preliminary research (yet to be published), the turmeric dose required to suppress cancer cell growth was one thousand percent smaller than the curcumin dose, so I would highly recommend using the natural root of turmeric in your cooking whenever possible.

Here is the brand of curcumin I take and recommend:

Life Extension Advanced Bio-Curcumin


1.  Dr Brian Lawenda’s article on curcumin:  http://www.integrativeoncology-essentials.com/2013/03/is-there-any-other-anti-cancer-botanical-compound-as-exciting-as-curcumin/

2.  http://tv.greenmedinfo.com/turmeric-kills-cancer-cells/

3.  2014 Research: New Perspectives of Curcumin in Cancer Prevention: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3693758/

4.  2013 Research: Curcumin for Radiation Dermatitis: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial of Thirty Breast Cancer Patients — http://www.rrjournal.org/doi/abs/10.1667/RR3255.1

The Effect of Curcumin on Breast Cancer Cells — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3706856/

5.  2012 Reseach: The Potential Utility of Curcumin in the Treatment of HER-2-Overexpressed Breast Cancer: An In Vitro and In Vivo Comparison Study with Herceptin — http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2012/486568/

6.  2013 Research:  Curcumin Induces Cell Death and Restores Tamoxifen Sensitivity in the Antiestrogen-Resistant Breast Cancer Cell Lines MCF-7/LCC2 and MCF-7/LCC9 —  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23299550

7. 2012 Research: Tamoxifen and Curcumin Binding to Serum Albumin. Spectroscopic Study – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022286012010642?via%3Dihub

8.  2009 Research: Curcumin and Cancer Cells: How Many Ways Can Curry Kill Tumor Cells Selectively? — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2758121/

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15 thoughts on “Harvest the Power of Curcumin To Kill Breast Cancer Cells

    1. Bonnie,
      Great question. Fresh turmeric is better and more potent than curcumin, but people don’t often manage to get enough of it into their bodies via food as reliably as they would taking supplements, which is why I recommend taking supplements that are proven to be bio-available (because curcumin tends to be rather poorly absorbed by the body). Hope that answers your question! Nice to hear from you.
      Warmest regards,

  1. Thanks Marnie for this informative website. Yesterday, my sister was diagnosed to have stage 3 breast cancer. The lump was removed and the next step advised was to undergo chemotherapy. We were looking at taking turmeric instead because based on what happened to other cancer patients we know, the cancer became active again after only a few years at the most after chemotherapy. The recurring cancer was usually more aggressive and the patients we knew did not survive. My sister’s reluctance with turmeric is that she has low blood sugar. What should she take with turmeric to balance the drop in blood sugar? Thank you.

    1. Sorry for the late response, Fe. For some reason this message was in my spam folder and I just found it. I’m sorry about your sister’s diagnosis. I would not rely upon turmeric/curcumin alone to treat your sister’s breast cancer. In combination with a few other therapies, however, it could be quite helpful. I see you are receiving my newsletters, and hopefully by now you will have learned about many more things that can be helpful in the fight against breast cancer. I would recommend your sister work with a oncology naturopath or integrative oncologist for best results. Hope this info helps.
      Warmest regards,

  2. I read your article on Stage 4 Breast Cancer. In your research have you come across any articles about Kadcyla and curcumin? I was diagnosed as being metastatic this past September. I had my first Kadcyla treatment Nov. 2nd. I have read quite a lot of articles on your site today. They are helpful and encouraging. Thank you!!!

    1. Sharon,

      I’m so glad you have found my website helpful. No, I have not come across any research about Kadcyla (TDM1) and curcumin. Were you wondering about a drug/supplement interaction? Because I haven’t read a thing about this subject (and yes, I’ve looked!). Hope this helps.
      Warmest regards,

  3. So in terms of what 8 grams looks like with fresh turmeric root, I have no clue what this would look like nor do I have a kitchen scale — say all my turmeric roots are 1-inch long, how many of these would be required to make 8 grams?

    1. Tanya,
      I would recommend starting with a lower dosage and working up to the therapeutic dose. 8 grams of fresh turmeric is a LOT of turmeric and I doubt you could sustain that on a daily basis. If you are interested in using turmeric/curcumin for medicinal purposes, I find it’s better to take it in bioavailable capsules (mixed with black pepper and oil) to optimize its absorption. Hope that helps.

      1. I’ve been eating about a 1-1.5 inch piece with each meal, does that sound like about 8 grams?

        At first I hated the taste, but now I’ve come to like it:)

        And I sprinkle a nice dose of black pepper on my food.

        I have issues with capsules, had them get stuck several times even w/ lots of water, now I have a phobia, that’s why I try to eat the fresh root instead..

        1. Tanya,
          I don’t think a 1-1/2″ piece of turmeric is going to yield 8 grams. A rounded half teaspoonful of the dried turmeric spice yields about 1.5 grams. If you can’t take curcumin in capsules, another good way to get it is by making Golden Milk. It’s delicious and it’s a little easier to get a therapeutic dose. Besides the black pepper, you also need an anti-inflammatory oil (like coconut) to help you absorb the curcumin.

          Golden Milk:
          1/4 tsp dried turmeric (or 1/4 tsp of turmeric paste)
          Freshly ground black pepper corns
          1/2 tsp coconut oil (or olive or avocado)
          125 ml water
          125 ml milk of your choice (almond or coconut are nice)
          Sweetener of choice (maple syrup, honey, cinnamon)

          In a small saucepan, stir turmeric in the oil to dissolve then add the water. Heat and allow to simmer gently a few minutes until it thickens slightly, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add milk and allow to heat gently without boiling. Remove from heat and add your choice of sweetener. As you get used to the taste, you can increase the turmeric with no need to increase the oil (it will be sufficient).

          Hope you like it!

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