Independent Healing (IH): First of all, can you tell us what curcumin is?
Dr. Goel: Curcumin is the natural medicinal compound in the spice turmeric, which is used in virtually all Indian cooking. Turmeric, which is a bright yellow color, contains about 2-4% curcumin.
Curcumin has nothing to do with the spice cumin. The two are completely unrelated.
IH: Curcumin has a long history in medicine. Can you tell us where and how it is used?
Dr. Goel: The two oldest systems of medicine are those in China and in India, where there is a traditional system of medicine called Ayurveda. People in India have used turmeric for healing for thousands of years. It has very strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anticancer effects. Its anti-inflammatory effects are really the basis for its benefits.
Turmeric has had many uses in India. Its bright yellow coloring was used to dye clothing. And before refrigeration it was used to preserve food. It's a very strong antimicrobial. So when you rub it on or add it to food, it prevents spoiling.
Medicinally, turmeric has been used for many, many conditions. If you have a cut, you mix it into a paste and apply it to your injury. The cut will heal very quickly with no scar. This remedy still is used today.
For an upset stomach or headache, people mix turmeric with milk, which turns the milk a bright yellow. It's called golden milk. And it works very well.
I could go on and on about the many uses. It's phenomenal that a single spice has so many beneficial effects.
IH: Can you tell us about the cancer rates in India compared to the U.S.?
Dr. Goel: Colorectal cancer is very common in the U.S. It's the third most common cancer in both men and women. But in India it's much rarer. The colorectal cancer rate in India is 10-15 times lower.
It's similar with breast cancer. The rate in Indian women is 5-7 times lower. Virtually all types of cancer are much less prevalent in India than in the U.S. Often the rate is more than 10 times lower.
IH: Can using the spice as opposed to taking a supplement lower cancer risk?
Dr. Goel: To get a therapeutic amount of curcumin, it's really best to take a supplement. Don't get me wrong, eating turmeric is beneficial. And there are other components in it besides curcumin that are very good for you.
But it's impractical with a Western diet to eat enough turmeric to make a big difference. Things are different in India where they eat it three times a day in every meal. But most Americans won't do that. So a supplement is the best option.
IH: You have just announced the results of a study that looked at the effect of curcumin and frankincense on colon cancer. What did you find?
Dr. Goel: I've been researching curcumin now for about 20 years. And I also became interested in frankincense (boswellia). It is used in Ayurveda as an anti-inflammatory. But it works through a different pathway than curcumin. Individually, both curcumin and frankincense are effective against cancer. But together they have synergistic effects against colon cancer cells.
We gave curcumin and frankincense to animals with colon cancer and the effect was powerful. Within daysnot even weeksthe tumors melted away.
And from people I hear the same kind of thing: "I had stage-4 colon cancer and I didn't change anything I was doing other than taking curcumin. Now, I'm stage-3." Some people tell me their cancer has gone entirely after taking curcumin.
To hear this from patients, it validates what we're doing. This is a very potent natural medicine.
IH: Does curcumin have any side effects or contraindications?
Dr. Goel: First of all, you should always consult your physician before taking curcumin or any other type of supplement. That said, curcumin is safe for most everyone. There's only one concern, and it's not a major one. People taking one class of drugs, blood thinners, should exercise some caution.
Curcumin isn't a blood thinner by itself, but in some people it can increase the effect of Coumadin and other drugs in its class. That's not to say these patients shouldn't take curcumin. But they should consult their doctor first.
IH: Do we know the mechanism behind curcumin's anticancer action?
Dr. Goel: Yes, we do. But curcumin doesn't work in any one way. For many people this is hard to understand. It's ingrained in us that you have one indication and one pathway to treatment...a single disease, a single drug.
But when you break down disease on a fundamental level it's about genes. When genes misbehave in some way, you see the symptoms. With cancer, genes tell cells when it's time to die. When they don't, the cells go on living. You have abnormal growth of normal cells. That's what cancer is.
In the last five decades, we haven't done a good job finding cancer treatments. This may because we are so tuned into this idea of one drug targeting one cancer-causing gene. The problem is that cancer is not triggered by just one gene. Hundreds of them may be involved. And they are different in each patient. That's why cancer drugs may work on one patient and not on another.
Curcumin can target many genes and pathways. It is not confined to working in just patients with a specific gene variant.
IH: Is there any certain kind of curcumin supplement that you recommend for cancer prevention and treatment?
Dr. Goel: There are lots of curcumin supplements on the market. But curcumin by itself has a problem. After it is ingested it is poorly absorbed by your body. It goes right through you, coming out with your urine.
In India, they put turmeric in milk, never in water. No one ever questioned why. That's just how it's been done going back many years.
Now, people have figured out why the old ways work. Fat increases absorption. When you add lipids or fats, such as in milk, your body is better able to take in the curcumin and it is much more potent.
Formulators are doing different things to increase curcumin absorption. In our studies we use a type of curcumin called BCM-95. Turmeric has its own essential oils. They extract these oils. Then they add them to curcumin to create a product that contains the natural lipids of turmeric to increase absorption. BCM-95 is widely available from many supplement makers.