Does Curcumin Have An Estrogenic Effect?
This week I received a very helpful and enlightening newsletter from Dr Jacob Schor, Naturopath, titled Does Curcumin Have An Estrogenic Effect? and I wanted to share it with you, because this is also a question I get asked frequently.
Dr Schor is also on the Board of Directors for the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is based in Denver, Colorado. He is often quoted on this website because of his excellent research skills, quality information and helpful insights for the breast cancer community.
Dr Schor has very kindly allowed me to copy the contents of his newsletter for you to read:
Does Curcumin Have An Estrogenic Effect?
By Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO
September 27, 2015
Over the last month or so, several patients have contacted me in great concern because they had read online that curcumin (the turmeric extract) has estrogenic effect and is thus contraindicated in any estrogen sensitive cancer, in particular, breast cancer. Thus I am obligated to consider and answer this question in great detail. For those of you who simply want the bottom line: many things you read online are not true. This is one of them. Curcumin is still strongly indicated for use in all types of breast cancer.
This concern appears to have been started by an inaccurate statement on WebMD: “Hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids: Turmeric contains a chemical called curcumin, which might act like the hormone estrogen. In theory, turmeric might make hormone-sensitive conditions worse. However, some research shows that turmeric reduces the effects of estrogen in some hormone-sensitive cancer cells. Therefore, turmeric might have beneficial effects on hormone-sensitive conditions. Until more is known, use cautiously if you have a condition that might be made worse by exposure to hormones 1.
This statement in various versions has been copied and pasted onto a growing number of other websites.
The WebMD article did not cite a source for this idea. In a situation in which one makes a statement that runs contrary to general consensus, it is typically expected to be justified with a reference.
Our assumption is that WebMD’s statement is based on a 2010 paper by Bachmeier et al as it is the only study that we’ve found to suggest the idea that curcumin is at all estrogenic:
Bachmeier et al examined the impact of curcumin, along with quercetin and the enterolactones (derived from flax) on the expression of the genes in breast cancer cells that are normally strongly stimulated by estrogen. “Gene regulation induced by these compounds was low for genes strongly induced by E2 and similar to the latter for genes only weakly regulated by the classic estrogen. Of interest with regard to the treatment of menopausal symptoms, the survival factor…” 2
Bachmeier found that curcumin has a very weak estrogen-like effect on these genes. The authors of the paper were not worried about breast cancer stimulation, rather they were wondering if these compounds might decrease hot flashes.
We should note that the same authors have published other papers on curcumin and breast cancer, all focused on its potential benefit in treating this type of cancer. They do not seem the least bit concerned about an estrogenic effect, nor do they appear to be the least concerned about their findings. Here are a few other titles from these same researchers:
2008 “Curcumin downregulates the inflammatory cytokines CXCL1 and -2 in breast cancer cells via NfkappaB.” 3
2007 “The chemopreventive polyphenol Curcumin prevents hematogenous breast cancer metastases in immunodeficient mice.” 4
2010 “Curcumin, either as an isolated chemoprevention substance or in combination with chemotherapeutic agents as supportive measure reducing pharmaceutical resistance of tumor cells to certain chemotherapeutics” 5
My colleague Lise Alschuler, author of “The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing”, when asked about this commented that the concern was based only on “… in vitro indirect data – so [it is] bogus. Every plant would have some phytoestrogenic properties in a petri dish and this one was weak.”
I also contacted Bharat Aggarwal who directs the MD Anderson’s research laboratory, which has done much of the published research on curcumin, to ask if this idea was possibly true. His response: “…there is no evidence for this.”
To paraphrase another colleague, Paul Reilly ND, FABNO, ‘Almost all flavonoid molecules have some mildly estrogenic effect. In the case of curcumin this effect is quite weak and is far outweighed by its other anti-cancer actions. These estrogenic effects themselves, though mild can be considered anti-estrogenic in that they compete for the ER binding sites on cells, like a very weak form of tamoxifen.’
So where does that leave us? There seems to be no evidence to support the idea that patients should be concerned about estrogenic effects from curcumin.
This should serve as a lesson to all of us, that, as we move forward through this journey of living with cancer, science and medicine, we take careful steps; we need to be cautious regarding what we read and believe to be fact. The idea that curcumin should be avoided appears to have no credible evidence to support it. Yet as a result, many patients may be hesitant to use something that could have potential benefit in their lives.
To see some of the other health benefits turmeric/curcumin offers, see this page: Turmeric – The Definitive Guide
2. Bachmeier BE1, Mirisola V, Romeo F, Generoso L, Esposito A, Dell’eva R, Blengio F, Killian PH, Albini A, Pfeffer U. Reference profile correlation reveals estrogen-like trancriptional activity of Curcumin. Cell Physiol Biochem. 2010;26(3):471-82.
3. Bachmeier BE1, Mohrenz IV, Mirisola V, Schleicher E, Romeo F, Höhneke C, Jochum M, Nerlich AG, Pfeffer U. Curcumin downregulates the inflammatory cytokines CXCL1 and -2 in breast cancer cells via NFkappaB. Carcinogenesis. 2008 Apr;29(4):779-89. Epub 2007 Nov 13.
4. Bachmeier B1, Nerlich AG, Iancu CM, Cilli M, Schleicher E, Vené R, Dell’Eva R, Jochum M, Albini A, Pfeffer U. The chemopreventive polyphenol Curcumin prevents hematogenous breast cancer metastases in immunodeficient mice. Cell Physiol Biochem. 2007;19(1-4):137-52.
5. Bachmeier BE1, Killian P, Pfeffer U, Nerlich AG. Novel aspects for the application of Curcumin in chemoprevention of various cancers Front Biosci (Schol Ed). 2010 Jan 1;2:697-717.
Thank you Dr Schor for setting the matter straight for us in the breast cancer community and for going to all of the trouble to make phone calls and delve into the research. We thoroughly appreciate your time and passion for helping others.
For more information on how curcumin is beneficial for breast cancer, dosages and specific supplements see my article Harvest The Power Of Curcumin To Kill Breast Cancer Cells.
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Thank you for posting this Marnie. I’m so glad that this is finally cleared up. However it does pose another question! Does it block receptor sites from other treatments that might be beneficial for example tamoxifen or other Ai’s?
There is a statement above that reads , carcumin binds to ER receptor sites.
That’s a great question and I’m glad you asked it. Research indicates that curcumin works synergistically with tamoxifen. Have a look at this 2013 research study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23299550 The study indicates that curcumin keeps ER positive cancer cells from spreading and promotes cancer cell death, both alone and in combination with tamoxifen, and helped sensitize breast cancer cell lines that were resistant to anti-estrogen drugs. I hope this helps!
As the senior author of several of the above cited studies on the potential effect of Curcumin on estrogen receptor controlled genes I wish to discuss some aspects of our research in the light of the contributions to the present discussion. Please note that I am not an oncologist, I am a molecular biologist. I am not indicating any sort of treatment. If a patient intends to integrate her therapy with Curcumin she should discuss this with her oncologist.
We have shown that Curcumin exerts very weak estrogenic effects on cells that have been depleted of estrogen. Molecular modeling showed that Curcumin might bind to the estrogen receptor alpha. Other polyphenols behaved in a similar fashion.
This is the only evidence of Curcumin having estrogenic effects. Hence, the evidence is weak. We intended to stimulate research into the potential estrogenic activities of Curcumin and our work alone cannot definitely establish such an effect for Curcumin.
Our other studies on Curcumin used estrogen receptor alpha negative (triple negative) cells.
If Curcumin binding to the estrogen receptor alpha can be confirmed its effect is expected to be similar to other weak estrogenic compounds including tamoxifen. In the presence of estrogen, these compounds compete for binding to the receptor and lower the estrogenic signal. In the complete absence of the endogenous hormone, these compounds are expected to have weak estrogenic effects.
In the pre-menopausal breast cancer patient high levels of endogenous estrogen are present, in the post-menopausal where ovarian production of estrogens has ceased, adipose tissue still produces considerable amounts of the hormone. In both cases Curcumin would be expected to compete with the endogenous hormone for binding to the estrogen receptor.
Only in the case of treatment with aromatase inhibitors endogenous estrogens are essentially absent. In this case, weak estrogenic compounds might have a weak estrogenic effect.
Angela Brodie has shown several years ago that the addition of tamoxifen to aromatase inhibitors in mice carrying human breast cancer cells lowered the potential of the aromatase inhibitors to block breast cancer cell growth since in the absence of estrogens, tamoxifen has weak estrogenic effects.
The same might happen with Curcumin. Therefore, unless the contrary can be shown I recommend caution for the combination of Curcumin with aromatase inhibitors. In any case, the patients should discuss issue with their oncologists.
Thank you very much for your time in sharing all of this with the breast cancer community. We appreciate your input and clarification.
Many thanks Marnie for getting back to me.The turmeric relieved the inflammation,and now your email has relieved my mind,a win win.
Thank you so much for posting this research by Dr Schorr (and many thanks to him too).
I am a beast cancer ‘survivor,’ plus I have fibroids. I was concerned especially about the growth of fibroids (one is quite large and I am post menopausal, so future growth is not good). This was very reassuring…I had read that Web MD article as well! Thanks again.
Thanks for your comments – I am very glad to know this article was helpful to you. By the way, I see that you tried to subscribe to my newsletters but haven’t confirmed your subscription yet. If you didn’t see the email asking you to confirm, check your spam folder as it sometimes ends up there. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for this clarification, I only read the “other article ” a few days ago and have been very concerned as I have been taking turmeric since my diagnosis last year hoping to keep cancer away. I have to take eostrogen blocker anastrazole for 5 years. So very relieved that I haven’t been doing the wrong thing .
You are quite welcome. There are many different things that will help to keep recurrences away. Have you signed up to receive my newsletters? They are full of my best information on healing from breast cancer and avoiding recurrences and I have just updated them with the latest info and research. You can sign up from any page on my site (over on the far right-hand side), if you haven’t already done so.
Can Curcumin be taken by those of us with GERDS or Acid Reflux?
Great question! According to a 2007 study, acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may be caused by inflammation and oxidative stress. Because curcumin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits it may be quite helpful for GERD.
I was told to stop HRT since my mammary glands are over active. In was told also not to take over the counter natural Estrogen etc. Can I take Curcuma daily for hot flashes and staying sane. After stopping HRT I have a hard time it’s seems everything is off balance, my character, my arthritis is worse and the hot flashes are terrible.
It may take something more than curcumin to help the hormonal balancing. I would strongly recommend working with a natural therapist to get your hormone levels checked and help you with some natural medicine to get you balanced again. I am glad that you are off HRT – I know it’s not fun, but in the long run you will be much healthier for it. If I can help, let me know.
Hi Marnie, I read your article on Curcumin with interest. I have been off my taxomifen for 4 mths with lots of withdrawal symptoms . My arthritis has flared up and I have got psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis after a 30yr break. I have started on the curcumin for the natural anti inflammatory side of things. I cannot take NSIDS as they make me ill. My sister in law has been on curcumin for 10 mths with great results. I am hoping it will help me as regards my joint pain . I was pleased to read that it also help with breast cancer. I have got my 5 yr clearance and will now do all that is possible to keep well. Thank you for all the updates and keeping us well informed. I look forward to reading newsletters.
With regard to the tamoxifen withdrawal symptoms, this article may assist you: https://marnieclark.com/natural-remedies-for-tamoxifen-withdrawal-side-effects/
Yes, do indeed give the curcumin a try, just make sure it is a bio-available form of curcumin as discussed in this article: https://marnieclark.com/harvest-the-power-of-curcumin-to-kill-breast-cancer-cells/ – and I link to a good one in that article. Good luck with it!
Can I simply just say what a comfort to discover somebody who truly knows what they
are talking about on the web. You definitely understand
how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More and more people should read this and understand this side of your story.
I can’t believe you’re not more popular given that you
definitely have the gift.
Thank you kindly for your comments, much appreciated. If you’d like to share some information about breast cancer on this website, we would all love to hear what you have to say.
Marnie I see that this article is several years old. I was diagnosed with BC HER2 positive a year ago. I’m on anastrozole. I’ve been taking 1000 mg of Turmeric Curcumin for a year now. In the BC group I belong to some are saying that their onc told them not to take Turmeric supplements if HER+. So I started searching and came across this. I’m freaking out that I’ve been taking for a year now and my onc did not mention anything about not taking it. Do you have any newer studies or information regarding Turmeric and HER+ BC.
Please do not spend ONE MORE MOMENT worrying about taking curcumin. I have read NO studies that indicate curcumin is a problem for either ER+ breast cancer or HER2+ – quite the opposite. Have a look at this article from my website: https://marnieclark.com/study-shows-curcumin-works-as-well-as-herceptin-in-some-cases/ Also, read this 2020 study which showed that curcumin inhibits HER2 signalling (a good thing) and works synergistically with Herceptin to stop this type of breast cancer: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32563955/ Nora, you have NOT done the wrong thing at all. Hope this puts your mind at ease.