Saturday, August 30, 2014

Curcumin and Cancer

Interesting article on Curcumin and cancer fro MedicalXpress. It's not about lymphoma, but it got me thinking.

The article is called "Curcumin Blocks the Metastasis of Colon Cancer by a Novel Mechanism." Curcumin is an ingredient in the spice Turmeric, which is often used in Indian cuisine because of its flavor and bright yellow color. (And it makes an acceptable substitute for saffron in Risotto Milanese, but don't tell anyone in my family I said that.) It has long been thought that Curcumin has an effect on cancer, perhaps in blocking metastasis and spreading of colon cancer. (I say "thought to" and "possibly" because I can't find anything that doesn't use that kind of fuzzy language.) No one is rejecting the idea that Curcumin might be helpful, but it isn't being used as a common treatment for cancer, either. It isn't absorbed easily by the body, and that's one of the problems.

The study described in this article might move us away from the fuzzy language. Some researchers have found the mechanism that makes Curcumin block metastasis. It activates an enzyme that blocks a protein called cortactin in colon cancer. Cortactin is necessary for cells to move. Therefore, blocking it will keep cells (including cancer cells) from moving from one part of the body to another. It won't necessarily kill the cancer cells, but it will keep them in one place. That's a big issue for certain cancers.

Reading this reminded me of a lot the advice I got when I was first diagnosed. Someone did recommend I eat a lot of turmeric. Someone else suggested I buy some kind of juice that would cost about $15 a day. Someone else sent me a link to a special trampoline that would keep my lymphatic fluid moving and not turn to sludge (which was, they said, probably what caused my lymphoma). Someone else said I should cut out sugar.

They were all well-meaning, and I never got mad at anyone for offering me advice. They were all very sincere -- every one of them had "read it somewhere."

But, despite seeing something online or in print, none of it was ever subjected to any kind of rigorous study to see if it actually worked. Some of them might have been studied "in vitro," in a laboratory, but not "in vivo," in an actual patient. That matters. As we see more and more, it's not just the cancer cells that matter, but all of the stuff happening around the cells, all of the processes that occur to keep a cancer alive, that matter. So dropping some South American juice on a cancer cell in a petri dish and watching it die really doesn't tell you much about how that juice -- after it has been consumed and processed by the body and then sent to the cell -- will behave.

So even though that Curcumin study is important for colon cancer patients, I think it's important for us Follicular Lymphoma patients, too, but for a different reason. We all want quick fixes -- we all want a juice to drink or a food to avoid to help us. But cancer isn't that easy to deal with, as much as we'd like there to be. And Follicular Lymphoma is even harder than other cancers, given its nature. We might decide that eating Massaman Curry every day for lunch is what has made our lymph nodes shrink, when really, it has been the waxing-and-waning that sometimes occurs no matter what we do. There's no real way to tell, without the kind of rigorous study that comes from a formal clinical trial.

(And I would absolutely volunteer for a clinical trial that involved eating Massaman Curry every day, especially if it was also testing whether Pad Thai helped with Curcumin absorption.)

I'm all for doing things that help us feel good, whether it's eating curry or jumping on a trampoline. But when it comes to really attacking our lymphoma, I think science has to win out.

And if there's one important thing that I got from this article, it is this:

When my wife and I go out for our weekly lunch together, it's going to be at our favorite Indian restaurant. Because now I am have a really bad craving for some curry.


Anonymous said...

Hi LymphoBob-
For those interested, a friend wrote these articles, at my request, as someone was insisting that curcumin would help lymphoma

Curcumin for cancer 1

Curcumin for cancer 2


Lymphomaniac said...

Thanks, Anjou! Great stuff, and really gets at the problems with taking a supplement that hasn't been thoroughly tested on actual patients.

Anonymous said...

Hi bob,
For more than a year, I am taking Turmeric together with black pepper everyday, as written in a book "Anti Cancer - a new way of life" written by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD.