Curcumin for Bladder Cancer
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Few natural supportive therapies for cancer get better results than curcumin. Using curcumin or any other complementary or alternative technique to stay in remission from bladder cancer, however, requires a comprehensive approach.
The Unusual Nature of Bladder Cancer
Bladder cancer is among the most survivable cancers, but it is also among the most persistent. People who have bladder cancer often have “successful” surgery to remove bladder cancer tumors only to have the cancer come back again and again.
Even when bladder cancer is treated in its earliest stages, in about 50% of cases it recurs in 5 years or less. Because the bladder surgery is usually uncomplicated, most people get more surgery, radiation, or immunotherapy and survive for 20 years, 30 years, or even more, but bladder cancer becomes a debilitating, chronic disease.
The “Fuel” for Bladder Cancer
Bladder cancer grows from the lining of the bladder, the cells that are in contact with urine, inward to the tissues surrounding it. The genetic damage that “fuels” bladder cancer is triggered by exposure to chemical contaminants of food and water, especially benzene and chemicals derived from it (including solvents, dry cleaning agents, gasoline, and many plastics), arsenic, and lead.
Toxic chemicals that find their way into the urine turn off a process called LINE-1 methylation. Methylation is a process that adds a -CH2 or methyl group to DNA, and LINE-1 is a specific segment of DNA involved in cancer protection.
These chemicals trigger chemical reactions that keep segments of DNA that code cancer-fighting proteins from becoming active. These toxins don’t so much cause cancer as they keep cells from defending themselves against cancer. People who get bladder cancer are especially vulnerable to this kind of carcinogenesis due to genetic variation. Fortunately, there is something you can do to counteract this process.
Putting Out the “Fire” in Bladder Cancer
The simplest intervention for preventing bladder cancer, it turns out, is flushing out the toxins that interfere with this form of methylation. And how can you do that? Drink more water.
Just drinking more water significantly lowers the risk of recurrent bladder cancer, and it is not necessary to drink so much water that you slosh to get the benefit. Studies in Southeast Asia, where bladder cancer is relatively common, find that drinking just 5 cups (not glasses) of water per day is enough to get maximum benefit. That’s the equivalent of 1. 2 liters of fluid. Water is desirable, but green tea may be better, and coffee is not harmful if drunk in moderation, no more than 2 or 3 cups a day.
Fighting Acidity to Control Bladder Cancer
Another way to fight bladder cancer is to keep the urine alkaline. Alkalizing the urine is frequently misunderstood. There is a common misconception that somehow cancer results when the blood becomes acidic. Actually, drastic changes in the pH of the blood cause serious illness and death far more quickly than cancer.
It is the kidneys’ job to keep the pH of the blood nearly constant so metabolic acidosis does not occur. They do this by excreting “acid” into the urine, where it can cause irritation, inflammation, and demethylation of the cancer-prone lining of the bladder. “Acidity” accumulates in the urine, not in the bloodstream, in almost all cases.
The kidneys neutralize the pH with the help of the amino acid glutamine, calcium released from bone, or the “ash” in certain fruits and vegetables. Green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach contain large amounts of this neutralizing ash, as do dried fruits such as raisins and prunes.
Meat and fish contain large amounts of glutamine. This would make them alkalizing when eaten in very small amounts. The problem is that when they are eaten in excess, that is, when the body receives more protein than it needs, their amino acids are actually converted into sugar. The process of transforming excess amino acids into sugar releases large amounts of acidifying urea, especially when the the food contains large amounts of the amino acids tyrosine and tyramine, abundant in smoked fish, and hard cheese. Other meats are about 1/3 as “acidifying” and yogurt, milk, and ice cream are only mildly problematic for an alkalizing diet.
It isn’t necessary to start drinking wheatgrass smoothies every morning and munching on spinach salads at every meal to fight the acidification that aggravates bladder cancer. Just avoid hard cheeses and smoked fish altogether, and limit meat to 5 oz/140 grams a day, taking care to eat leafy greens at least once a day.
This keeps the cancer-fighting LINE-1 gene active. But it you already have recurrent bladder cancer, there is still more you need to do.
Curcumin for Fighting Bladder Cancer
Drinking more water and eating an alkalizing diet only fights bladder cancer at the “initiation” stage, when the DNA master files that code the proteins to fight this kind of cancer are being deactivated. Curcumin helps keep bladder cancer in check at a later stage in its development called proliferation.
Proliferation is the process through which cancerous cells multiply. Like healthy cells, cancer cells have to make copies of their chromosomes for the newly created cells. Chromosomes have to “unzip” so the adenosine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine (A, G, C, T) bases can be exactly replicated for the new cell. During this process, the two halves of the chromosome are held together by ultramicroscopic structures known as spindles.
What does curcumin have to do with this process?
Scientists at the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan have found that curcumin interferes with the division of cancer cells¹ by counteracting an enzyme called Aurora A. This enzyme is necessary for the cancerous cell to transcribe the A-G-C-T pattern of the DNA of the older cell onto the DNA of the new cell. It is also the enzyme that enables cancerous cells to reproduce themselves much more frequently and in much greater numbers than healthy cells.
Without Aurora A, there is no cell division in bladder cancer cells, and if there is no cell division, there will not be any later formation of tumors or invasion of nearby tissues. Because this enzyme is specific to cancer cells, curcumin does not interfere with the normal growth of healthy tissue.
How Much Curcumin Is Enough?
Researchers at the National Medical University of Taiwan in Taipei conducted a small-scale clinical trial to determine safe and effective dosages of curcumin in treating a number of different kinds of cancer, including bladder cancer. They fit the dosage to the patient, rather than to the cancer, giving more and more curcumin as long as there were no adverse effects.
The Taiwanese cancer researchers started with a dosage of just 500 mg of curcumin per day². If there were no adverse effects, they increased the dosage to 1,000, then 2,000, then 4,000, then 8,000, and finally 12,000 mg a day, but if as many as 3 patients in the entire study had adverse effects that could be linked to curcumin, then they scaled back the dosage for everybody.
In this study 8,000 mg a day turned out to be a safe and effective dose that caused no side effects. Only 1 in 2 patients who had bladder cancer actually benefited from curcumin treatment—but that is comparable to the response rate to immunotherapy and radiation.
If you have had bladder cancer, you are unlikely to suffer any side effects from taking up to 8,000 mg of curcumin per day. Nonetheless it is a good idea to make sure curcumin does not cause any problems by starting at 500 mg per day and working up to 8,000 mg day, doubling your dosage every third day if there are no apparent problems.
Other Natural Therapies for Bladder Cancer
Curcumin is the intervention for people who have bladder cancer who haven’t been able to stop smoking, who can’t eat organic, who don’t drink enough water, or who don’t avoid exposure to petrochemicals, but also for those who do. It’s an intervention that helps keep bladder cancer at bay even after there is DNA damage. Other natural therapies help at later stages in the process.
Probably the best known supportive natural therapy for bladder cancer is garlic. According to two renowned experts in the treatment of bladder cancer, Dr. David L. Lamm of the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and Dr. Dale R. Riggs of West Virginia University School of Medicine state that garlic supplements are not only as useful as the standard immunotherapy for bladder cancer, bacillus Calmette-Guérin (B-CG), they are better.
That’s because garlic extracts act at yet another stage in the process of cancer development. Drinking more water reduces the amount of time the sensitive lining of the bladder is in contact with carcinogenic chemicals. Eating an alkalizing diet encourages the protective process of methylation and prevents the destructive process of demethylation that are so important to keeping cancer-fighting DNA active. Curcumin prevents the multiplication of cells that have already become cancerous. But garlic helps the liver keep certain kinds of toxins from ever entering circulation.
The garlic chemicals ajoene, allylmethylsulfide, diallylsulfide, and diallyltrisulfide keep the liver from activating benzene (the carcinogenic component in gasoline), anthracene (the carcinogenic component in food color), and nitrosamines (the carcinogenic component in barbecued, grilled, and cured meats). These chemicals also counteract some of the carcinogenic chemicals in tobacco smoke and some of the carcinogenic effects of drinking alcohol to excess.
Even better, Lamm and Riggs say, garlic increases the immune system’s production of white blood cells, particularly the kind of white blood cell known as a macrophage. This kind of white blood cells “catches” stray bladder cells that might spread to other tissues.
Garlic chemicals also increase the release of interferon, which “interferes” with the multiplication of cancer cells, and stimulate the activity of tumor-necrosis factor alpha, which kills cancer tumors before they can metastasize to other organs. Garlic chemicals increase the activity of Natural Killer (NK) cells against bladder cancer.
So what’s the catch?
It turns out all these cancer-fighting qualities cannot be obtained by eating garlic. They are only available in sufficient strength from aged garlic extract, the supplement, taken as directed by the manufacturer. But not every natural supplement is beneficial for people who have bladder cancer.
Just Because It’s Natural Doesn’t Mean It’s Good for You
Not every nutrient is beneficial for everyone who has bladder cancer. And some nutrients are only useful in limited amounts.
Vegetables in the crucifer family, such as cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, turnips, mizuna, watercress, and wasabi, contain cancer-fighting isothiocyanates. These are sulfur-rich plant chemicals that combine with the amino acid N-acetyl cysteine and the antioxidant glutathione to form a “super antioxidant” that interferes with the reproduction of cancerous cells without stopping the normal activity of healthy cells.
Eating vegetables in the cabbage family is helpful for people who have bladder cancer, but there is no reason to eat them every day. That is because the isothiocyanates only work when the body combines them with glutathione and N-acetyl cysteine. The human body can only process the equivalent of 3 to 4 servings of these vegetables every week.
It’s also well established that colorful red, yellow, orange, and purple fruits and vegetables can be helpful to people who have bladder cancer. The alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin in these vegetables enhance the ability of healthy cells to communicate with each other. On a cell level, they are used to make enzymes that enable a cell to “know” whether a cell trying to glue itself in place next to it is cancerous or non-cancerous. Just about anyone who has bladder cancer can benefit by eating servings of colorful vegetables every day.
But not everyone who has bladder cancer benefits from taking alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, lycopene, lutein, or zeaxanthin in nutritional supplements. Non-smokers and former smokers respond to large doses of these plant chemicals in ways that use them as antioxidants that protect healthy cells, but current smokers respond to large doses of these plant chemicals in ways that use them as pro-oxidants that kill healthy cells but power the growth of cancer. If you smoke, stick to healthy diet and curcumin, and leave carotenoid, lycopene, and lutein supplements alone.
Curcumin is the supplement that is most likely to prolong remission from bladder cancer. It is not a cure-all for bladder cancer, and it is of limited use once cancer has spread. But for staying in remission from bladder cancer, curcumin should be a part of the daily routine of everyone in recovery from this disease.
- Liu HS, Ke CS, Cheng HC, Huang CY, Su CL. Curcumin-induced mitotic spindle defect and cell cycle arrest in human bladder cancer cells occurs partly through inhibition of Aurora A. Molecular Pharmacology. 2011 October; 80(4), 638-46.
- Cheng AL, Hsu CH, Lin JK, Hsu MM, Ho YF, Shen TS, Ko JY, Lin JT, Lin BR, Ming-Shiang W, Yu HS, Jee SH, Chen GS, Chen CA, Lai MK, Pu YS, Pan MH, Wang YJ, Tsai CC, Hsieh YY. Phase I clinical trial of curcumin, a chemopreventive agent, in patients with high-risk or pre-malignant lesions. Anticancer Research. 2001 Jul-Aug; 2148: 2895-900.