Written by Divinity Nutra, Updated on April 17, 2022

Turmeric and Cancer Treatment

Turmeric is perhaps the most widely researched dietary supplement of our time. In the golden age of natural medicine, it only fits that the best one we’ve found so far is often gold in color.

Most common as an addition to curry powders, turmeric spice offers a host of health benefits to help people of all ages maintain their mental and physical wellness. With so many convincing studies in the books, where do cancer prevention and treatment fall on that list?

Does turmeric help with cancer? Do we have reliable evidence to suggest that turmeric can shrink tumors or kill cancer cells?

Turmeric and Cancer

We’ve seen sufficient research pointing to turmeric’s benefits in various autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and psoriasis. Science has even found turmeric useful for treating Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Today, there appears to be a mountain of evidence suggesting that curcumin can provide benefits for cancer patients, as well. To better understand how curcumin interacts with cancer cells, tumor growth, and chemoprevention, let’s explore cancer itself in more detail. (1)

What is Cancer?

Cancer is the designated term for a group of interrelated diseases characterized by the rapid and uncontrolled division of cells. It can start anywhere in the human body, which is composed of trillions of cells.

Normally, human cells divide or grow based on biological needs. When cells get damaged or grow old, they die, and new cells quickly replace them.

When cancer develops, the process becomes highly unstable. Old cells may survive instead of die-off. New cells arise, even if they are unneeded. When these extra cells divide without stopping, they often form growths known as tumors. There are two types of tumors to consider.

  • Benign: These tumors do not spread into or invade neighboring tissues. They are not seen as life-threatening unless they arise in the brain. Once surgically removed, benign tumors usually do not grow back.
  • Malignant: This type can be life-threatening. Malignant tumors can rapidly spread into nearby tissues. Some cancer cells can even break off and travel through the bloodstream to wreak havoc on distant locations in the body. If surgically removed, they can sometimes grow back.

Extensive research suggests there is a strong link between oxidative stress and inflammation, a mediator of chronic diseases such as cancer. Activation of pro-inflammatory transcription factors increases the chances of healthy cells transforming into tumor cells. Thus, lowering inflammation is one possible way to prevent cancer. (2, 3)

There are many possible causes of cancer—we won’t get into all of them. Certain risk factors can raise your odds of developing cancer, such as prolonged hypertension, elevated cholesterol levels, and diabetes.

In general, cancer is seen as a genetic disease caused by mutations in DNA that change how our cells function. Most notably, changes in how our cells grow and divide. (4)

Why Turmeric Curcumin?

The extracted curcumin within turmeric possesses potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. In numerous laboratory studies, the increased presence of antioxidants has shown an ability to inhibit the types of free radical cell damage linked to cancer development. Is curcumin one such antioxidant with cancer-fighting potential? (5)

In this post, we’ll analyze the studies surrounding curcumin’s capacity to fight cancer, shrink tumors, and serve as a chemopreventive measure.

Curcumin in Cancer Prevention and Treatment

Chemotherapy is, perhaps, the most common cancer treatment. The problem with chemotherapeutic agents is the toxicity they present to not only tumor cells, but also healthy cells in the body. Chemotherapy is costly, and it’s only used to treat cancer, not prevent it.

Prevention is where curcumin helps the most, but it can also manage the disease through numerous mechanisms of action. Research has shown that curcumin has the potential to kill cancer cells by modulating multiple cell signaling pathways. Turmeric also selectively targets tumor cells, not normal cells. (6)

There are a few different processes heavily involved in cancer growth and development that curcuminoids may influence. These items are:

  • Apoptosis: This term means “programmed cell death,” which is a vital process to eradicate dysfunctional cells efficiently. Malignant cells often evade apoptosis.
  • Proliferation: An increase in cell numbers resulting from cellular division and growth. In cancer, there is uncontrolled cell proliferation.
  • Angiogenesis: This term describes the formation of new blood vessels. Angiogenesis is a normal part of growth and healing. But, in cancer, it expedites nutrient and oxygen flow to tumors, increasing their growth rates.
  • Metastasis: Refers to the dispersion of cancer to parts of the body different from where it originated. During metastases, tumor cells can enter the lymphatic system or bloodstream and travel elsewhere in the body.
  • Inflammation: Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to DNA damage and sometimes cancer. Inflammation is the immune system’s response to irritants or foreign invaders.

Not only can curcumin have a positive influence on each of these factors, but it can do so in many different varieties of cancer. Studies show positive results in treating leukemia and lymphoma, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, and several other types. (7, 8)

In the past 50 years, curcumin’s anticancer potential has shown its ability to suppress proliferation, down-regulate inflammation transcription factors, and regulate gene expression. Studies also show turmeric can inhibit tumor initiation, growth, and metastasis. (9)

One study tested curcumin’s potential to impede laminin adhesion receptors, which play a significant role in the migration and invasion of cancer cells. The trial found that turmeric significantly reduced breast cancer cell motility (an organism’s ability to move freely) and invasion.

When paired with existing pharmacologic inhibitors, the blocking effect was even higher. The added benefit suggests that curcumin may have a positive influence on limiting the spread of breast cancer. Turmeric also helps breast cancer survivors with fibromyalgia if it develops after treatment or surgery. (10)

Another study used 25 patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. Patients received 8,000 mg of curcumin orally per day. In spite of turmeric’s low bioavailability (absorption), the study found statistically significant biological activity in a small number of patients. (11)

In cancer, the term “proteasome,” refers to cellular protein degradation, which plays a crucial role in homeostasis. Cancer cells are known to inhibit cell death, promoting cell survival, and proliferation. Some cancer treatments use proteasome inhibitors to shift the equilibrium towards cell death.

Animal research found that curcumin may interfere with proteasome activity. The results of one study showed impaired cell proliferation and a reduced cancer burden in a group of tested mice. (12)

Further research examined turmeric’s capacity as a chemopreventive agent in patients with high-risk conditions or pre-malignant lesions. The study found a correlation between curcumin consumption and cancer prevention. Although not every patient experienced these benefits. (13)

How to Use Turmeric for Cancer Treatment

If you’re trying to prevent or treat cancer, you need to make sure you’re getting plenty of curcumin in your diet. Turmeric root powder contains an average of 3.14% curcumin. This means that adding turmeric powder to smoothies or food simply will not provide enough curcumin to have any benefits against cancer whatsoever.

You’ll need a higher ratio of curcumin to turmeric that can only be achieved in an encapsulated turmeric supplement. Supplements will also provide far superior absorption when they contain turmeric with black pepper together. Black pepper extract, also known as piperine or BioPerine, improves turmeric uptake by 20x.

For maximum benefits, check the label to make sure it contains AstraGin as well. AstraGin boosts absorption by 92% and helps support a healthy gut environment.

Can turmeric cure cancer?

No, turmeric and curcumin are not a cure for cancer. There currently is no cure, only the opportunity to treat your cancer to the best of modern medical science’s ability.

With that said, research seems promising that curcumin can provide some benefits in conjunction with traditionally prescribed cancer treatments. It’s best to use curcumin regularly for prevention. But if cancer develops, curcumin may provide some benefit in slowing its growth. This may buy some additional time for other treatments, like chemotherapy, to do the heavy lifting.

Important: Turmeric and curcumin should never be viewed as a replacement for traditional cancer treatments. Always consult with a doctor or medical professional first to make sure turmeric will work for your situation.

Curcumin Cancer Dosage

How much turmeric should I take to cure cancer? Remember, it’s not a cure, but it can help.

In the previous study, each patient started with a 500 mg dosage per day and gradually moved up to a maximum of 8,000 mg of curcumin per day. Anything beyond that was found to be intolerable for the patients. Up to 8,000 mg per day did not show any treatment-related toxicity.

The fact remains, that 8,000 mg per day is an incredibly large amount of curcumin that has not been studied for long-term safety, and it’s also going to be very costly. It won’t be possible for most people to consume this much.

So, how much turmeric per day can help with cancer? Most supplements will offer a 2-capsule serving size that has somewhere between 150 and 250 mg of curcumin. For most conditions, we recommend just one dose per day. But for cancer treatment and prevention, it’s best to take 2 doses per day, split 8 hours apart.

In total, you’ll be getting between 300 and 500 mg of curcumin per day, which is safe and effective for daily consumption.

Potential Side Effects

What are the dangers of using turmeric? If you stay within the safe dosing range, negative side effects will be few and far between. Adverse reactions are also very often mild and may include the following:

  • High quantities of curcumin can increase the likelihood of mild headaches, stomach discomfort, or nausea.
  • Curcumin has natural anticoagulant properties, so it may thin the blood too much if you’re taking other blood thinners with it.
  • Diabetics should more closely monitor their blood sugar since turmeric can lower blood sugar naturally.

Who should not take turmeric? If you’re pregnant or nursing, don’t take turmeric and curcumin in medicinal amounts. If you have an upcoming surgery, to avoid recovery and blood clotting problems, don’t take turmeric in the lead up to your operation.

Final Thoughts on Turmeric for Cancer

Does turmeric kill cancer cells and shrink tumors? The answer appears to be, yes, to a small degree. While you may find some success stories or testimonials out there for curcumin, we can’t emphasize enough that curcumin is not meant to replace traditional treatment methods for cancer.

There is definite therapeutic value in adding turmeric to the treatment regimen, especially if you’re undergoing chemotherapy. Curcumin’s potential to inhibit cell growth paired with its anti-inflammatory properties makes it an excellent comrade to take into your battle with chemo.

Studies have shown numerous mechanisms of action that curcumin has on cancer cells and tumor growth. Still, the results appear a bit inconsistent across the board. There is explicit biological activity occurring here, but the exact “how” is still somewhat up for debate. (14, 15)

If you’re considering turmeric for cancer, consult with your doctor or primary care physician to see if they can help improve your situation.