by Jennifer Good
Colon cancer is the third most prevalent type of cancer in the United States. Worldwide, colorectal cancer is responsible for more than 600,000 deaths each year. Curcumin, the yellow pigment/antioxidant found in the spice turmeric and which also gives mustard its bright yellow color, has been shown to inhibit colon cancer cell growth. Used for centuries in Asian medicine to treat everything from heartburn to arthritis, it is now getting a closer look by Western scientists to see how it can help prevent or treat cancer as well as reduce inflammation. In fact, according to Advanced Experimental Medical Biology published in 2007, “Curcumin has been shown to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities and thus has a potential against various malignant diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic illnesses.”1
Among its many benefits, curcumin has been shown to slow the spread of cancer and new tumor blood vessel growth. It has even been reported to kill off cancer cells. It seems to be particularly effective in the treatment and prevention of colon cancer, with study results showing that patients taking 3.6 grams a day have slowed down the progression of the disease.2 In fact, some studies have shown that it can inhibit colon cancer cells by some 96% in a matter of hours.3 It also appears to have great potential in countering the effects of prostate cancer and breast cancer. In a sense, curcumin can be thought of as natural chemotherapy — with the ability to selectively kill cancer cells, while at the same time leaving normal cells alone. Laboratory work has revealed that curcumin can decrease swelling and inflammation and clean up free radicals.
Curcumin is not just for cancer prevention since more studies are suggesting its value for arthritis treatment. One 3 month long study from Italy studied curcumin’s effect of osteoarthritis of the knee. After 90 days, the researchers found a 58 percent decrease in overall reported pain and stiffness as well as an improvement in physical functioning among the curcumin group compared to the controls. Even more interesting, in the curcumin group, they found a 16-fold decline in C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation, and patients were able to reduce their use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs by 63%. Since arthritis is so common today, this research is quite compelling for the millions who suffer from arthritis pain.4
The one stumbling block found so far is that curcumin (either in turmeric or when taken as a concentrated supplement) is not easily absorbed by the body. However, mixing it with fat appears to aid in its absorption. And in fact, some curcumin supplements have been designed to have much higher absorption levels.
It should be noted that, even if not fully absorbed, curcumin will be certain to reach the cells of the digestive tract, perhaps explaining its positive results with colon cancer. In other words, a study specifically on curcumin supplementation, colon cancer, and smoking might be particularly interesting. And while they’re at it, they might want to add green tea catechins to the mix, since the combination of curcumin and green tea appears to be especially effective when it comes to colon cancer.
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