Turmeric, with the active component curcumin, is both a food and a dietary supplement that may promote a better immune response and blood sugar levels, and may also help you manage some side effects of cancer.

Turmeric and curcumin at a glance

Turmeric, Curcuma longa, is a tropical plant in the ginger family. It is a main ingredient in curry powder and is used frequently as a seasoning in Indian and other South Asian cuisines. Curcumin is the major constituent and the active component in turmeric, but other curcuminoids have also been studied. Both turmeric and curcumin are available as dietary supplements. 

Curcumin is well established for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant a molecule that can cause a free radical to stabilize and become less reactive; an antioxidant donates an electron to a free radical without making itself unstable, and antimicrobial properties. Curcumin may reduce some side effects such as fatigue, pain, nausea, and vomiting related to cancer treatments and may improve the quality of life for people with cancer. It may also improve your body environment (terrainthe internal conditions of your body, including nutritional status, fitness, blood sugar balance, hormone balance, inflammation and more) to make it less supportive of cancer growth and development, such as by improving blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity.

Curcumin is poorly absorbed by the gastrointestinal (GI) tract into the blood. Getting it to tumors outside the GI tract via the blood has been difficult.1Fajardo AM, Piazza GA. Chemoprevention in gastrointestinal physiology and disease. Anti-inflammatory approaches for colorectal cancer chemoprevention. American Journal of Physiology. Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology. 2015 Jul 15;309(2):G59-70. Some formulations are designed to increase absorption:

  • Meriva® formulation2Lagoa R, Silva J, Rodrigues JR, Bishayee A. Advances in phytochemical delivery systems for improved anticancer activity. Biotechnology Advances. 2019 Apr 9. pii: S0734-9750(19)30063-1.
  • Nanoformulations for colorectal cancer treatment3Wong KE, Ngai SC et al. Curcumin nanoformulations for colorectal cancer: a review. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2019 Mar 5;10:152.
  • A 40% guar gum and curcumin formulation4Gulbake A, Jain A, Jain A, Jain A, Jain SK. Insight to drug delivery aspects for colorectal cancer. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2016 Jan 14;22(2):582-99.
  • A liposomalvery tiny, fat-like particles used as delivery enhancers for some vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients to improve transport into the bloodstream form5Feng T, Wei Y, Lee RJ, Zhao L. Liposomal curcumin and its application in cancer. International Journal of Nanomedicine. 2017 Aug 21;12:6027-6044.

Consuming turmeric with either pepper or fats may also increase absorption.6TRC Natural Medicines. Turmeric. December 14, 2017. Viewed January 15, 2018.

CancerChoices ratings for turmeric and curcumin

We rate turmeric and curcumin on seven attributes, with 0 the lowest rating and 5 the highest.

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3

Treating cancer

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Optimizing your body terrain

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Managing side effects and promoting wellness

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2

Reducing cancer risk

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Use by integrative oncology experts

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Safety

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Affordability and access

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Authors

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Dr. Ryan is a research associate for CancerChoices. She is a licensed and board certified naturopathic physician and acupuncturist in Oregon. Dr. Ryan is the founder of Gentle Natural Wellness, a clinic specializing in bridging classical Chinese medicine with naturopathic medicine to provide individualized, compassionate care for people in the community. A Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine and Master of Science in Oriental Medicine with honors from the National University of Natural Medicine, research in medical anthropology at the University of Hawai’i and George Mason University, language and culture programs at Obirin University (Tokyo) and Sogang University (Seoul), and studies of Chinese herbal medicine and qigong in China have provided a diverse background that has helped form a foundation for her community health and healing path.

Emily Ryan, ND, MSOM, LAc Research Associate

Reviewer

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Last update: May 17, 2022

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

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