Written by Klara Rombauts, Liene Dhooghe and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated May 7, 2014

Curcumin

Does it work?

This summary is currently (April 2016) being updated. The version published here was assessed as up to date in April 2014.

Several clinical trials explore the use of curcumin as a preventive or therapeutic agent, mostly with promising results. Most trials are, however, rather small and early phase, and very few controlled trials are available. 42

Until now the most trials have been performed using curcumin as a chemopreventive agent, especially for the prevention of gastrointestinal cancers. As a therapeutic agent, most trials are performed using curcumin in combination with chemotherapy. It seems that curcumin is the most promising when used in combination with conventional therapy although this is a very preliminary conclusion which needs to be confirmed.

Clinical trials performed with curcumin as monotherapy are the least successful, probably due to the low bioavailability of curcumin itself. Several efforts to improve this low availability are currently ongoing. 

For a description of included controlled clinical trials please see table 1. 

Prevention 

Controlled trials

Two randomized clinical trials are available. One including 82 patients with ulcerative colitis showed significantly lower relapse rates for patients receiving standard treatment with 2g of curcumin compared to standard treatment with placebo.22 Reduced DNA damage and antioxidant activitiy were observed in 286 healthy volunteers chronically exposed to arsenic who received 1 g curcumin daily compared to placebo.27 

Uncontrolled trials 

Epidemiological data show that the incidence of several types of cancer is low in populations consuming curcumin at levels of about 100-200 mg per day over long periods of time 15. Uncontrolled trials suggest a decrease of the number of aberrant crypt foci in 41 smokers receiving 4g but not 2g or curcumin daily 25, a biological effect of curcumin in 25 patients with high-risk or pre-malignant lesions in different organs 7 and an arrest or regression of cervical low-grade squamous intraepithelial neoplasia and a reduction in circulating IL-6 levels by a curcumin extract (NBFR-3) in 21 women.47 

Treatment 

Controlled trials 

Four controlled clinical trials are available, 43,29,44,46 two thereof are randomized.43, 29 These trials are mostly small with short term follow up, use different curcumin preparations with different bioavailability and include different types of cancer. All of these are major limitations so no firm conclusions can be made about the efficacy of curcumin in the treatment of cancer at this point.

Reduced radiation dermatitis was reported in an RCT of 30 breast cancer patients receiving 6g oral curcumin daily compared with placebo.43 Body weight gain, reduced serum levels of TNF-α and an increase in cancer cell apoptosis were reported in an RCT of 126 colorectal cancer patients receiving 360mg oral curcumin or placebo.29 Adverse effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in 160 cancer patients were improved in those receiving a curcumin-phospholipid complex with improved bioavailability (1.5g Meriva) compared to those receiving placebo.44 Nitric oxide levels were significantly decreased in 50 patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia receiving 15g imatinib and turmeric powder daily compared to imatinib alone.46  

Uncontrolled clinical trials 

One uncontrolled clinical trial is available evaluating the topical application of a curcumin ointment in 62 patients with locally recurrent ulcerating tumors. Positive responses were reduction of smell, relief of itching, drying of the exudates, relief of pain, or reduction in the lesion size (10%) 30.

Citation

Klara Rombauts, Liene Dhooghe, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Curcumin [online document]. http://cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Herbal-products/Curcumin. May 7, 2014.

Document history

Summary fully revised and updated in April 2014 by Klara Rombauts.

Summary first published in May 2012 authored by Klara Rombauts and Liene Dhooghe.

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