Curcumin is beneficial in preventing and even in treating colon cancer at almost every stage of disease. There is one stage of colon cancer for which curcumin is not helpful, however, when this normally curative supplement should be avoided.
Curcumin Helps Stop Colon Cancer Before It Starts
While there are many causes of colon cancer, even in people who have a genetic predisposition for colon cancer, there is usually a trigger, a toxic exposure that activates carcinogenesis that leads to the presence of cancerous cells that eventually coalesce into colon cancer tumors. Before this happens, however, many of the toxins that can cause colon cancer have to be activated in the liver with the help of an enzyme called Cytochrome P450 (encoded by the gene CYP1A1).
The idea that a toxin isn’t toxic until the liver transforms it sounds a little strange to most of us, but there actually are specific enzymes that activate specific toxins that are harmless until they are processed by the liver. Some of the carcinogens that are activated by Cytochrome P450 include aflatoxin, the toxin made by a fungus that can grow on corn. Poisons in plants usually have to be activated by Cytochrome P450 , as do the toxins released by infectious microbes that manage to escape the immune system.
Some environmental toxins like the benzene in gasoline and the fumes from epoxy glue make the Cytochrome P450 super-active. These chemicals are not especially carcinogenic in themselves, but they make other carcinogens more toxic. Fortunately, curcumin counteracts Cytochrome P-450. It keeps the liver from going into overdrive in activating cancer-causing toxins when it is stimulated by solvents, auto fuel, or the fumes from sealants and glues.
Curcumin also short-circuits the process of carcinogenesis in the colon itself. Curcumin stimulates the production of an protective antioxidant called glutathione. Curcumin protects the liver on a genetic level. It deactivates the DNA that contains the code for the enzymes that transform colon polyps into colon cancers, by deactivating the adenomatous polyposis coli (apc) gene. But curcumin can also be helpful once colon cancer develops¹.
Curcumin Is Helpful In Stages I and II of Colon Cancer
Curcumin counteracts another set of enzymes known as the metalloproteinases. These enzymes enable colonies of colon cancer cells to secrete chemicals that literally eat through surrounding healthy tissue to give them direct access to the bloodstream. Curcumin also interferes with the hormonal signals colon cancer cells send to the bones to create stem cells to become even more “baby” colon cancer cells.
As long as the cancer is confined to the colon, curcumin may help stop its spread.² In stage III of colon cancer, however, taking curcumin is not a good idea.
Curcumin Is Potentially Harmful in Stage III of Colon Cancer
In Stage III colon cancer, cancerous tumors have begun to “break out” of the colon and spread to other organs, typically the liver. This is a stage in the disease in which the anti-inflammatory power of curcumin is actually not a good thing.
The immune system sends white blood cells on “patrol” throughout the body to seek out and destroy infected cells and cancerous cells with inflammation. Fighting inflammation limits the ability of the immune system to destroy metastatic colon cancer cells while they are still small.
Even worse, at this stage of the disease and in this form of cancer, curcumin can even “switch off” a cancer “watchdog” gene called p53. This gene is programmed to activate a self-destruct sequence in the cell if it becomes cancerous. In the third stage of colon cancer, the anti-inflammatory power or curcumin counteracts the gene and protects the cancer cell in the same way it protects ordinary cells. Curcumin helps prevent colon cancer before it is diagnosed, but it is not a good idea to take curcumin for colon cancer after it has been diagnosed, unless the disease has progressed to its final stage, Stage IV.
Curcumin in Stage IV Colon Cancer
In Stage IV, colon cancer has spread to distant organs throughout the body. Life expectancy is limited. Chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy are intended not so much to cure the disease, but to keep it from invading the remaining healthy tissues the body must preserve to extend life.
In the fourth stage of colon cancer, clinical trials at the Baylor School of Medicine in Houston, Texas have shown, curcumin helps cancer patients hang on to some quality of life. Taking large doses of curcumin, up to 8,000 mg a day, helps prevent some of the predictable side effects of radiation, such as mouth sores (mucositis), nausea, and vomiting. By making it easier for stage IV colon cancer patients to eat, curcumin helps forestall a potentially fatal complication of cancer called cachexia, or wasting, and gives both patients and their families a measure of comfort when malnutrition and eventual starvation are forestalled or prevented.
What Kind of Curcumin Works Best for Colon Cancer?
If you know you are at risk for colon cancer (because of family history of colon cancer, or because your gastroenterologist found non-cancerous polyps during your colonoscopy), you only need a small dose of curcumin daily to get the maximum protective benefits. As little as 80 mg of curcumin per day, the amount of curcumin you get from eating a single serving of curry or by taking the smallest commercially available curcumin supplement, may, according to a study by the World Health Organization, reduce your risk of developing the disease by as much as 80 to 90%. Almost any curcumin product will do, even the two curcumin products found by Consumer Lab to have less curcumin than they advertise on their labels. (Copyright restrictions do not allow the posting of the names of these products here. ) The amount of curcumin your body needs for cancer protection is quite small.
If you have active colon cancer, however, first make sure that your oncologist has staged your cancer as I, II, or IV. During these stages of the disease, researchers at Baylor University School of Medicine have found, up to 8,000 mg of curcumin per day relieves symptoms without side effects. The brand of curcumin used at Baylor was America’s Finest Curcumin with Biopiperine, although the Life Extension Foundation makes a comparable product called BCM-95.
Curcumin is not a cure for colon cancer—but it helps. Just be sure to use curcumin at the appropriate stage of colon cancer to get maximum cancer protection.
- Hsu YC, Weng HC, Lin S, Chien YW. Curcuminoids-cellular uptake by human primary colon cancer cells as quantitated by a sensitive HPLC assay and its relation with the inhibition of proliferation and apoptosis. J Agric Food Chem. 2007; 55: 8213–22.
- Chen H, Zhang ZS, Zhang YL, Zhou DY. Curcumin inhibits cell proliferation by interfering with the cell cycle and inducing apoptosis in colon carcinoma cells. Anticancer Res. 1999; 19: 3675–80.
- Lev-Ari S, Maimon Y, Strier L, Kazanov D, Arber N. Down-regulation of prostaglandin E2 by curcumin is correlated with inhibition of cell growth and induction of apoptosis in human colon carcinoma cell lines. J Soc Integr Oncol. 2006; 4: 21–6.