Curcumin, which makes up part of the curry spice turmeric, has been extensively studied in the laboratory as a possible cancer prevention supplement. As with all disease prevention research, though, it is easy to find contradictory research results regarding the potential effectiveness of curcumin in preventing new or recurrent cancers. More importantly, however, there has been very little research performed in humans with curcumin.
Prior laboratory research, in mice and rats, has suggested that curcumin may decrease the incidence of aberrant crypt foci and adenomatous polyps in the colon and rectum. These abnormalities are thought to be among the earliest observable changes in the colon and rectum that precede the development of colorectal cancer (although not all patients with these abnormalities of the colon and rectum will actually go on to develop colon or rectal cancer). Now, a newly published clinical research study, which appears in the current issue of the journal Cancer Prevention Research, suggests that dietary supplements of curcumin in humans may also help to prevent precancerous colorectal aberrant crypt foci.
In this small clinical pilot study, 41 smokers were recruited after screening colonoscopy biopsies revealed the presence of aberrant crypt foci. The patient volunteers participating in this study were given either 2 grams of curcumin per day for 30 days, or 4 grams per day for 30 days. After this 30-day treatment period, repeat rectal biopsies were performed.
While the patients who received 2 grams of curcumin per day did not show any decrease in the number of aberrant crypt foci within their repeat rectal biopsies, the patients who received 4 grams of curcumin per day experienced a very significant 40 percent reduction in the number of precancerous aberrant crypt foci within the rectum.
While the results of this very small study do not prove that curcumin supplements can directly reduce the risk of colorectal cancer in humans, this study does provide tantalizing evidence that curcumin supplements can decrease very early precancerous changes in the cells that colorectal cancer arise from. Of course, longer term and larger prospective clinical research trials will be necessary to prove that curcumin supplements can directly reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. However, this intriguing little study is an important step in that direction. (As always, I remind readers to check with their doctor before taking any new dietary supplements or medications.)
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Disclaimer: As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity
Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author