May 22

Flashback Friday: Carcinogen-Blocking Effects of Turmeric Curcumin

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“We are increasingly aware [of] plant-derived substances [that act] as chemopreventive agents”—substances that help prevent cancer, as opposed to chemotherapy, substances aimed at treating cancer). “These substances are not only inexpensive, they are also [easily] available, and have no or limited toxicity.”

“Since 1987, the National Cancer Institute…has tested more than 1,000 different potential agents for chemopreventive activity, of which only [a few dozen] were moved to clinical trials. Curcumin, present in the Indian spice [turmeric, which is used in curry powder], is 1 such agent that is currently under clinical investigation for cancer chemoprevention.”

“According to their mode of action, chemopreventive agents are classified into different subgroups: [there’s the] antiproliferatives, antioxidants, or carcinogen-[blockers]. Curcumin belongs to all 3…, given its multiple mechanisms of action.”

Curcumin appears to play a role helping to block every stage of cancer transformation, proliferation, and invasion. It may even help before carcinogens even get to our cells. A study back in ’87 investigated the effects of curcumin on the mutagenicity—the DNA-mutating ability— of several toxins. And, they found that curcumin was “an effective antimutagen against several environmental and standard [mutagenic and cancer-causing substances].”

But, this was in vitro, from the Latin meaning “in glass,” meaning in a test tube or petri dish. What about in people? Well, it’s not like you can take a group of people, and expose them to some nasty carcinogen just so you can give half of them turmeric, and see what happens. Well, you could wait until some toxic waste spill happens, or a nuclear accident. But, otherwise, you’re not going to find people who would voluntarily expose themselves to carcinogens, unless—smokers! We can just test it on smokers. They’ve got carcinogens coursing through their veins every day.

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If you take some smokers, and have them pee on some bacteria, this is the number of DNA mutations that arise. Remember, all life is encoded by DNA—whether bacteria, banana, or bunny rabbit. It’s easier though, when measuring urinary mutagens, to just pee on some bacteria.

The urine of nonsmokers caused far fewer DNA mutations. That makes sense; they have fewer chemicals running through their system. And if you have the nonsmokers eat turmeric for a month, nothing really happens. What if you do the same for smokers, though? Fifteen days later, they’re down to here, and 30 days, they’re down to here.

And, this is not some concentrated curcumin supplement. It was just plain turmeric, like you’d buy at the store. And, less than a teaspoon a day—indicating that dietary turmeric is an effective antimutagen. You’ll note though, on this graph, there’s an even more effective antimutagen—not smoking. Even eating turmeric for a month, the DNA-damaging power of smoker pee exceeded that of nonsmokers.

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