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Updated: September 10, 2019
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:
- Curcumin upregulates various death receptors, cell surface receptors that transmit “die” signals to cancer cells;
- Curcumin upregulates the FAS receptor, which plays a central role in the regulation of apoptosis, programmed cell death;
- Curcumin activates certain enzymes which destroy cancer cells from within;
- Curcumin increases tumor cell sensitivity to chemotherapy and radiation therapy;
- Curcumin inhibits cancer cell division, growth and metastasis;
- Curcumin increases cancer cell death;
- Curcumin inhibits tumor cell survival;
- Curcumin inhibits growth of blood vessels to tumors, a process known as angiogenesis;
- Curcumin is strongly anti-inflammatory;
- Curcumin acts as an antioxidant;
- Curcumin inhibits carcinogenic agents;
- 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:
Dr Olivia Naturals Organic Curcumin Complex – I really like the fact that it combines the power of curcumin together with ginger and boswellia (an extract from frankincense). It’s super-powerful and works extremely well for many health conditions.
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/
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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