Most of you know that I enjoy cooking—my intention is to create food that is not only delicious, but deeply nourishing. As an herbalist, I’m especially interested in the health benefits of common herbs and spices used in culinary traditions around the world. My Italian heritage means that basil, oregano, and rosemary play a prominent role in our kitchen, but our shelves are filled with a wide variety of spices and herbs. One of my favorites is turmeric, a deep golden yellow powder that is best known as an ingredient in East Indian curries. Throughout history, turmeric has been valued as a spice, food preservative, dye (giving Buddhist robes their familiar golden color), and most importantly, as a powerful plant medicine. A close relative of ginger, turmeric grows in southern India, China, and Indonesia.
Indigenous systems of medicine, including the Chinese and Ayurvedic systems, have relied on turmeric for more than 4,000 years for treating a wide variety of ailments. In both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, turmeric is prescribed for arthritis, liver disorders, menstrual problems, and indigestion, and it’s applied topically to heal wounds, bruises, and muscle strains. In addition, Ayurvedic healers appreciate turmeric as a cleansing herb. In traditional Western herbalism, turmeric is used to treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and tendinitis.
More recently, studies show that the powerful healing properties of turmeric can help to prevent and treat serious diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and type-2 diabetes. Recent research suggests that turmeric enhances our ability to protect ourselves against cancer and supports conventional cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation, and even many of the newer drugs that target specific growth factors such as epidermal growth factor (EGFR) blockers.1
The most thoroughly researched healing properties of turmeric are found in the curcuminoid compounds, the same constituents that give the root its bright yellow color. These lipid soluble, natural phenolic substances demonstrate pleotrophic benefits, which means they have a multitude of health promoting, seemingly unrelated traits that are able to simultaneously affect a wide range of molecular pathways. These pleotrophic benefits include assisting our innate capacity to better manage the underlying causes of chronic diseases and conditions, including inflammation, oxidative damage, gene-expression, inhibiting epigenetic alterations, and through modulation of immune response. Over the past twenty years, there has been an explosion of supportive research on turmeric and curcumin—including in vitro, animal, and clinical studies—exceeding studies of all other plants or plant compounds.
Molecular Pleotrophic Effects of Curcumin
To date, more than 65 human clinical trials of curcumin (including more than 1000 patients) have been completed and as many as 35 clinical trials are underway. My personal monograph on turmeric is 112 pages with 322 citations, and I add research studies to this monograph on almost a weekly basis.
In simple terms, curcumin helps to neutralize free radicals, the cell-damaging molecules that are at the root of many degenerative diseases, including inflammatory conditions, heart disease, and cancer. In addition, turmeric inhibits excessive blood clotting, which is a contributing factor in cardiovascular disease and inflammatory disorders.
The cancer inhibiting properties of curcumin have been demonstrated in hundreds of laboratory and animal studies. Curcumin has been shown to interfere with multiple cell signaling pathways through which cancer is initiated, grows, and metastasizes. The activity of curcumin reported effective against leukemia and lymphoma, gastrointestinal cancers, genitourinary cancers, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, lung cancer, melanoma, neurological cancers, and sarcoma reflects its ability to affect multiple targets.
Turmeric and Chemotherapy
One recent human clinical trial demonstrated that turmeric extract enhances conventional chemotherapy.
Bowel cancer that has metastasized is often treated with chemotherapy, most often FOLFOX, a combination of the drugs folinic acid (leucovorin), fluorouracil (5FU) and oxaliplatin. But this doesn’t always work very well and the cancer often spreads to the liver. Researchers
found that the addition of a turmeric extract (Curcumin C3 Complex®) to FOLFOX-based chemotherapy enhanced efficacy of treatment in patients with colorectal liver metastasis, and that curcumin alone and in combination with chemotherapy exerted anti-proliferative and pro-apoptic (killing) effects on cancer stem cells derived from the patients.
In the trial protocol, Curcumin C3 Complex® was administered as 2g/day dose with standard FOLFOX chemotherapy. The researchers noted that the addition of curcumin to FOLFOX treatment was well tolerated with a compliance rate of 93.8%.2
Other studies have also suggested that inclusion of curcumin to the conventional chemotherapeutic agent(s)/regimen could be an effective therapeutic strategy for colorectal cancer.3
In addition, several recent studies propose that adding curcumin to conventional chemotherapeutic regimens could be an effective strategy to prevent the emergence of chemoresistant cancer cells and even target cancer stem cells, which chemotherapy does not.4,5
Curcumin Intra and Extra Cellular Targets
Turmeric and Heart Health
In a small clinical study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, curcumin proved beneficial in helping to lower several risk factors that contribute to heart disease. Participants were given 500 mg of curcumin daily for one week; researchers found that a daily dose of 500 mg. of curcumin over seven days significantly reduced cholesterol levels (12%), raised HDL (29%), and decreased lipid peroxides (33%). These results suggest curcumin is an effective agent against arterial heart disease.
Recent laboratory and animal studies show that curcumin holds promise for preventing Alzheimer’s disease by breaking down the accumulation of amyloid-beta plaques, reducing inflammation in the brain, and preventing the formation of amyloid. Some researchers speculate that the low rate of Alzheimer’s disease in India may be the result of their traditional diet of turmeric-spiced curries. It appears that the brain detects and controls diverse forms of stress through a complex network of “longevity assurance processes” integrated to the expression of genes termed vitagenes. Curcumin and other phenolic compounds up-regulate repair mechanisms within the brain that mediate the oxidative damage which could otherwise induce the brain damage associated with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Curcumin and Inflammatory Conditions
Studies have also verified the traditional wisdom of using turmeric to ease arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. In a recent study at the Nirmala Medical Centre in India (published in 2012 in the journal Phytotherapy Research), 45 participants with rheumatoid arthritis were given either 1,000 mg of curcumin, 50 mg of the NSAID diclofinac sodium, or a combination of the two for eight weeks. The study found that those receiving curcumin experienced the most relief, as measured by Disease Activity Scores and American College of Rheumatology criteria for reduction of tenderness and swelling of joints. In addition, curcumin did not cause the side effects, such as gastrointestinal distress, typical of the prescription drug.
Pharmacologically, curcumin has been found to be very safe. Human clinical trials indicated no dose-limiting toxicity when administered at doses up to 8 g/day.
I typically suggest 500-1000 mg. of curcumin as a maintenance dosage and 2000-4000 mg./day as a therapeutic dosage; preferably in combination with additional natural anti-inflammatory botanicals such as green tea extract, grape-seed extract, resveratrol, quercetin, ginger extract, rosemary extract and piperine (black pepper extract). All of these botanicals and botanical compounds have been found to significantly enhance the health-benefits of turmeric, and in some cases demonstrate benefits that no one compound exerts when used singly. For example, a recent study on breast cancer showed that carnosic acid, a main compound in rosemary extract, exhibited synergistic growth suppressing ability when used with curcumin against ER-negative human breast cancer.6
Plant synergy is a central theme to my work. In fact, I rarely use single plants or single isolates. (See my blog entitled “Botanical Medicine: A Symphony in Harmony Against Cancer” where I explore this topic in-depth.) In addition to the botanicals noted above, the effects of curcumin appear to be enhanced by the addition of the proteolytic enzyme bromelian as well as black pepper extract and fat, such as omega 3 fatty acids. In a recent study, researchers found that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) demonstrated synergistic anti-cancer effects on DMBA-induced HER2 neu breast cancer in mice.7
Overall, turmeric is a remarkably safe and beneficial herb, and one that I highly recommend that you include in your diet and/or supplement program.
- Starok M, Preira P, et al. EGFR Inhibition by Curcumin in Cancer Cells: A Dual Mode of Action, 2015 May 11;16(5):1634-42. doi: 10.1021/acs.biomac.5b00229. Epub 2015 Apr 24.
- Irving G, Iwuji C, et al. Combining curcumin (C3-complex, Sabinsa) with standard care FOLFOX chemotherapy in patients with inoperable colorectal cancer (CUFOX): study protocol for a randomised control trial, 2015 Mar 24;16:110. doi: 10.1186/s13063-015-0641-1.
- Patel B, Sengupta R, et al. Curcumin enhances the effects of 5-fluorouracil and oxaliplatin in mediating growth inhibition of colon cancer cells by modulating EGFR and IGF-1R, Int J Cancer. 2008 Jan 15;122(2):267-73.
- James M, Iwuji C, et al. Curcumin inhibits cancer stem cell phenotypes in ex vivo models of colorectal liver metastases, and is clinically safe and tolerable in combination with FOLFOX chemotherapy. Cancer Lett. 2015 Aug 10;364(2):135-41. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2015.05.005. Epub 2015 May 12.
- Patel B, Gupta D, et al. Curcumin targets FOLFOX-surviving colon cancer cells via inhibition of EGFRs and IGF-1R, Anticancer Res. 2010 Feb;30(2):319-25.
- Einbond L, Wu H, et al. Carnosic acid inhibits the growth of ER—negative human breast cancer cells and synergizes with curcumin. Fitoterapia. 2012 Oct;83(7):1160-8.
- Siddiqui et al. Characterization of synergistic anti-cancer effects of docosahexaenoic acid and curcumin on DMBA-induced mammary tumorigenesis in mice. BMC Cancer 2013, 13:418.
6 Replies to “Turmeric: Nature’s Anti-Inflammatory”
How can I make appt to see dr yance
Hi Valerie – Please call the Mederi Centre for Natural Healing at 541-488-3133 to schedule a consultation.
Do you know of anyone using Curcumin C3 Complex to treat PVNS?
Hi Donna – I am not familiar with botanical use for the diagnosis of PVNS and in review, it is a complicated diagnosis. Due to its nature of inflammation, I would first look to Boswellian, then for the health of the joint, collagen, and glucosamine sulfate. The Curcumin would certainly be additional anti-inflammation support.
Great! Thanks for this useful info x