Thursday, January 3, 2013
The Curcumin Controversy
Want to see cancer doctors, patients, caregivers and other assorted stakeholders get all hot and bothered? Ask them about the curcumin and cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society’s website, “Turmeric is a common food flavoring and coloring in Asian cooking. Animal and laboratory studies have found that curcumin, an antioxidant that is an active ingredient in turmeric, demonstrated some anticancer effects. However, clinical research is needed to determine curcumin's role in cancer prevention and treatment in humans. Several types of cancer cells are inhibited by curcumin in the laboratory, and curcumin slows the spread of some cancers in some animal studies.”
As you can image, there are now studies galore with results and opinions vigorously pro and con. The pro side is convinced that this works. The con side needs more evidence and thinks that the “pro” side is not demanding the rigorous studies needed before clutching to a possible solution.
The Inspire online conversation is a great example of this discussion - http://www.inspire.com/RachelIdon/journal/curcumin-against-cancer/?reply_sort=asc&page=2#replies - and has been, in turns, thoughtful, concerned, upbeat and pessimistic. If nothing else, it’s passionate. I see 100 replies to Rachelldon’s original www.1uponcancer.com posting entitled “Curcumin has cancer fighting properties” - http://www.1uponcancer.com/2012/12/22/curcumin-has-cancer-fighting-properties/
The lead sentence in the article reports that “Curcumin, in the Indian spice, turmeric, is proving to help suppress or prevent cancers; specifically cancer of the breast, prostate, esophagus, mouth, intestines, stomach, and skin as well as leukemia.“
The article goes on to say that the “UCLA Johnson Comprehensive Cancer Center found promising news with head and neck cancer. Curcumin suppressed the disease in human cells and mice when applied as a paste. In a follow-up 2010 study, head and neck cancer patients took 1,000-mg tablets for a short time period. The result was reduction in pro-inflammatory cytokines (proteins) that feed cancer. And inhibition of the cell-signaling pathway driving tumor growth.”
So what do I think of all of this? I guess I want to believe that curcumin helps, that curcumin helps fight cancer. At the same time, I often reflect back on Barbara Strauch’s comments from her insightful book entitled The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain in which she noted that, “For years, scientists believed diet had little impact on our brains because they thought most nutrients didn’t cross the blood-brain barrier.” The blood-brain-barrier is real. Cells linking blood vessels in the brain are packed close together to keep out certain large molecules and maintain a chemical balance.
So for now I remain confused, hopeful and thinking that Indian food for lunch, with lots of turmeric, would taste just fine.
Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_12707543_turmeric-powder-spice-pile-with-garlic-and-spoon.html'>foryouinf / 123RF Stock Photo</a>