A diagnosis of liver cancer used to be considered a death sentence, but more and more people every year are surviving liver cancer thanks to innovations in modern medicine. Wouldn’t it be nice, however, if there were some way to prevent liver cancer altogether?
Curcumin seems to be one natural supplement that may be able to prevent liver cancer.
According to the GLOBOCAN study of cancer incidence worldwide, in the United States, where few people consume curcumin on a regular basis, the average American has a 1 in 300 chance of developing and eventually dying from liver cancer. In India, where nearly everyone consumes curcumin in the form of curries nearly every day, the average individual has only a 1 in 1200 chance of dying from liver cancer. Even in the United States, 95% of people who are diagnosed with liver cancer die from the disease in five years or less, usually in 6 to 20 months. Twenty years ago, however, the survival rate from liver cancer was essentially zero.
Clearly, while there is not a lot to be done to reverse liver cancer once it has developed, there is something in curcumin that stops the pathogenic processes that lead to liver cancer. But what proof is there that curcumin may prevent liver cancer?
Liver Cancer Isn’t a Disease That Usually Happens Overnight
In about 80% of cases liver cancer only develops 20, 30, or sometimes even 40 years after an initial injury to the liver. This injury typically is an infection with hepatitis B or C, but liver cancer can also follow years of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, cirrhosis, parasitic infection, or exposure to toxins. These conditions force liver cells to make constant repairs to their DNA. Eventually, the DNA repair system of the cell is overwhelmed, and it undergoes a cancerous transformation.
Viral hepatitis can cause a relatively quick transformation of liver cell DNA into a cancer-causing state, as can exposure to the food contaminant aflatoxin. Other forms of DNA damage to the liver, fortunately, take many years to transform enough healthy cells into cancerous cells that enough cancers escape the immune system and begin to form tumors.
How Curcumin Can Reverse the Process of Carcinogenesis
The main way that curcumin fights liver cancer is by targeting the energy-producing mitochondria in “baby” liver cancer cells. Once a liver cell becomes cancerous, it increases activity in its mitochondria to give the cell the energy to reproduce itself. Curcumin attaches to these over-active mitochondria and makes them more sensitive to free radicals. Free radicals can destroy healthy cells, too, of course, but curcumin steers free radicals to the mitochondria of sick liver cells before they multiply. Curcumin literally opens a pore that allows free radicals to stream into the mitochondria to destroy them¹.
Curcumin can have this effect on newly created cancer cells at any stage in the disease process, but it is easier for curcumin to do its job when cancer cells are only found in small numbers. This means that if you have been told you have any condition that puts you at risk for liver cancer, such as cirrhosis of liver, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C, it is important that you start taking curcumin now for maximum benefits.
How Much Curcumin Is Enough to Lower the Risk of Liver Cancer?
It does not take a lot of curcumin to lower your risk of liver cancer. Just 80 mg a day is enough to make a difference for most people. That’s the amount of curcumin in a single serving of curry, or the smallest dose of curcumin supplements available on the market. If you already have cirrhosis of the liver, then consider taking 500 mg of curcumin per day for cancer protection. And if you have been diagnosed with liver cancer, consult with your oncologist about appropriate dosing. There is enough information about curcumin in the mainstream medical literature that your cancer specialist is almost certain to know about it.
Even more important than taking curcumin, silymarin, multivitamins, and antioxidants, however, is getting your underlying liver disease under control. If antiviral therapy is available, consider taking it. If you abuse alcohol or street drugs, get help so you can quit. If you work with solvents, gasoline, dry cleaning agents, or industrial chemicals, seek a different assignment. But make sure you include curcumin in your daily supplement routine for maximum protection.
- Morin D, Barthelemy S, Zini R, Labidalle S, Tillement JP. Curcumin induces the mitochondrial permeability transition pore mediated by membrane protein thiol oxidation. FEBS Lett. 2001; 495: 131–6.