For more than 4,000 years, the Asian spice turmeric has been used in cooking and for medicinal purposes. Curcumin, turmeric’s active ingredient, is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, as well as the yellow pigment that gives many curry dishes a golden hue.
Shana Deneen, ND, FABNO, DiplAc, a naturopathic oncology provider at our hospital in Tulsa, says preliminary lab studies have suggested when curcumin is used in combination with cancer treatment, it may help inhibit the growth of breast, colon and prostate cancer.
“Curcumin may help reduce multiple biochemical pathways that are linked to cancer growth and survival,” explains Aroop Banerji, ND, LAc, FABNO, a naturopathic oncology provider at our hospital in suburban Chicago. “Curcumin may also help reduce chemotherapy resistance, a condition in which chemotherapies lose their effectiveness.”
Consuming between 3.6 and 8 grams (3600-8000 mg) of curcumin per day has shown to be beneficial. Because curcumin exists in low amounts in turmeric (less than 5 percent), the naturopathic team at CTCA recommends curcumin supplements instead of turmeric supplements. Kristen Trukova, MS, RD, CSO, CNSC, LDN, a clinical oncology dietitian at CTCA, adds, “Wide variability in curcumin content has been found between different turmeric brands and spice sources. In general, a lot of turmeric needs to be consumed in order to potentially improve health.”
If deemed appropriate, the naturopathic team suggests taking curcumin in pill form, along with a fat-soluble substance like a fish oil supplement and vitamin D to enhance absorption. This is because curcumin is poorly absorbed by the digestive tract. Trukova also says, “Some studies suggest black pepper (which contains the antioxidant piperine) should be combined with curcumin in a meal that’s moderate in fat to improve absorption.”
Deneen cautions, “Not all curcumin supplements are created equal. Reputable brands use high quality ingredients and advanced technology to enhance absorbability and bio-availability.”
Remember: Before you take any supplements during cancer treatment, you need to talk with your oncologist to determine if they are appropriate for you. Curcumin can interfere with some chemotherapies and Coumadin, an anti-clotting medication. A naturopathic provider who has oncology experience should also be able to help you make appropriate choices for natural medicine so you can avoid potentially harmful interactions with medications you are taking. To find a naturopathic oncology provider near you, visit the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians’ website.
Trukova says while there is only a marginal amount of curcumin in turmeric, cooking with turmeric is still good for you because it contains other beneficial compounds. “Most antioxidants and phytochemicals work in conjunction with other components in the same food through synergy,” she notes.
Traditionally turmeric is used to season lentils or garbanzo beans, such as in the recipe below. But Trukova also recommends adding turmeric to foods that are already orange or yellow, such as scrambled eggs or egg salad, an ear of corn or butternut squash. Additionally, she suggests trying it in smoothies or tea (combined with ginger), chili or soups, rice dishes and roasted potatoes.
Learn about naturopathic medicine and nutrition therapy.
Get tips for using supplements during cancer treatment.
Curry Potatoes, Onion & Chickpeas
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 1-8 oz. onion, diced
- 3 tsp. garlic, minced
- 2 potatoes, diced
- 3 tsp. turmeric
- 3 tsp. curry
- 2 tsp. cumin
- 1-15 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 plum tomato, diced
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a small pan, heat oil, then add onions, garlic and potatoes. Stir and cook for 10 minutes. Add spices and stir. Add chickpeas and diced tomatoes. Cook another 5 minutes and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Place on a serving dish and garnish with chopped parsley.