Besides giving Indian curries their rich golden color, turmeric contains a polyphenol called curcumin, which has been shown to possess many health benefits, including being a malignancy-fighting powerhouse. Curcumin’s health-boosting properties are well-documented and this single compound exhibits more than 150 potentially therapeutic actions.
With thousands of studies performed,1 researchers have shown curcumin has antibacterial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antimalarial, antioxidant, antiparasitic, antiproliferative, pro-apoptotic and wound healing properties.
Animal studies have suggested curcumin may be useful in the treatment of a wide range of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, neurologic conditions, obesity and psychiatric disorders, as well as chronic illnesses affecting your cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems, eyes, kidneys, liver and lungs.2
While turmeric is widely available in powdered form, it contains a very small amount of curcumin, which is known to be poorly absorbed through your gastrointestinal tract. For these reasons, you’ll receive more health benefits from a curcumin extract. A typical anticancer dose is up to 3 grams (just under 1 teaspoon) of high-quality bioavailable curcumin extract, taken three to four times a day.
Because it's a lipophilic (fat-loving) molecule, many curcumin preparations include some sort of oil or fat to improve its absorbability and bioavailability.
The Many Benefits of Curcumin
As the active ingredient in turmeric powder, curcumin is well-known for its broad range of curative properties. It has been used for thousands of years as a spice and beauty aid, and in both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine to treat a wide range of maladies — from cancer to indigestion and heart disease to neurodegenerative conditions. Given its many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, below are a few of the conditions responsive to curcumin:3,4
•Cancer prevention and treatment: Taking a curcumin supplement regularly may help prevent and treat cancer based on the fact it appears to block the blood supply to cancerous tumors, thereby suppressing the growth and replication of malignant cells.
•Heart health: Animal studies have shown curcumin can help regulate blood pressure and prevent heart disease. It may be particularly beneficial to reduce the incidence of atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. In other studies, curcumin has been found to lower LDL and total cholesterol and prevent your blood from clotting.5
•Intestinal and bowel issues: Because curcumin stimulates your gallbladder to produce bile, it may help improve your digestion, reduce bloating and gas and soothe digestive disorders. When combined with conventional treatments, curcumin may help promote the remission of ulcerative colitis.6
Scientists investigating curcumin’s biological activities had this to say about the extent to which it plays a vital role in supporting your health:9 “Modern science has shown that curcumin modulates various signaling molecules, including inflammatory molecules, transcription factors, enzymes, protein kinases, protein reductases, carrier proteins, cell survival proteins, drug resistance proteins, adhesion molecules, growth factors, receptors, cell-cycle regulatory proteins, chemokines, DNA, RNA and metal ions.”
Curcumin Is a Powerful Weapon Against Malignancy
In animal-based lab research during the past 20 years, curcumin has been shown to have both cancer-prevention and cancer-treatment properties. Its usefulness in the treatment of colon cancer is particularly well established.10,11,12 One group of scientists investigating curcumin’s ability to suppress the proliferation of colon cancer cells by targeting a major cell-cycle protein, said:13
“Curcumin … is one of the most popular phytochemicals for cancer prevention. Numerous reports have demonstrated modulation of multiple cellular signaling pathways by curcumin and its molecular targets in various cancer cell lines. Cyclin-dependent kinase 2 (CDK2), a major cell-cycle protein, was identified as a potential molecular target of curcumin. Indeed, in vitro and ex vivo kinase assay data revealed a dramatic suppressive effect of curcumin on CDK2 kinase activity.”
Other cancers in which curcumin has shown protective effects in rodent models include breast, bladder, brain, esophageal, kidney, liver, lung, pancreas, prostate and stomach, to name a few.14 As noted by Dr. William LaValley — one of the leading clinical researchers and medical practitioners in the field of integrative cancer treatment, whom I've previously interviewed on this topic — curcumin appears to be universally beneficial for nearly every type of cancer treatment.
This is unusual considering cancer’s many varied molecular pathologies. One reason for this universal anticancer proclivity is curcumin's ability to affect multiple molecular targets, via multiple pathways.
Once it gets into a cell, curcumin affects more than 100 different molecular pathways. And, as explained by LaValley, whether the curcumin molecule causes an increase in activity of a particular molecular target, or a decrease or inhibition of activity, studies repeatedly underscore its potent anticancer activity.
Notably, curcumin is nontoxic, and does not adversely affect healthy cells, suggesting it selectively targets cancer cells. In cases in which certain chemotherapy drugs are used, curcumin has been shown to work synergistically with the drugs to enhance the elimination of cancer cells.