Curcumin, a Panacea?

For more than a year, now, I have been reading about and doing research on this polyphenol (i.e., chemical substance found in plants), and this morning I did a search for curcumin in the news.” I found thousands of references. It’s mind-boggling! There is not much curcumin literature in Italian, unfortunately. However, I was still able to add a few links to my blogroll, both in English and Italian; please check them out.

What is curcumin? It’s the main biologically active curcuminoid of Curcuma longa, which is part of the ginger family of herbs, native to southern and south-eastern Asia. This plant’s root and rhizome are crushed and powdered into the spice commonly known as turmeric, which contains about 5 to 8 % curcumin. The use of turmeric as a medicine and condiment is recorded as far back as 600 BC. In the 13th century, Marco Polo wrote a description of turmeric, which he saw and tasted while travelling in China. As I read in one of Prof. Aggarwal’s presentations, traditional Indian medicine uses turmeric for biliary disorders, anorexia, coughs, diabetic wounds, hepatic disorders, rheumatism, and sinusitis. Turmeric powder mixed with slaked lime is a folk remedy for sprains and swelling. In the U.S., curcumin (labelled as E100) is used to colour cheeses, spices, mustard, cereals, pickles, ice-cream and other foods.

There seems to be no end to the powers of curcumin. It has antitumour, antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-amyloid and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as beneficial effects on arthritis, allergy, asthma, atherosclerosis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer. Curcumin is effective against a variety of cancers, so, if you have cancer, check to see if there are any studies on this polyphenol and your particular type of cancer. A few months ago, someone wrote me an e-mail, asking if curcumin had any effect on head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. To my surprise, I found a 2005 study on HNSCC growth in Clinical Cancer Research. The beauty of curcumin is that it attacks only malignant cells, leaving healthy ones alone; it also has no toxic side effects. Note of caution: always consult your oncologist before trying anything.

If you cut yourself, dab some curcumin on the wound, and it will heal faster (you might turn a bit orange–I have experienced that in person!–so be careful not to dab it on your face; don’t forget that turmeric is used as a commercial dye in Indian textile industries!). Got a sore throat? Drink some turmeric tea. High cholesterol, memory loss, blood-clotting problems, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, constipation, high blood pressure, etc. etc. etc.?

The remedy is simple: curcumin.

Ode to Broccoli

This morning, by chance, I came across a mention of broccoli and discovered something I didn’t previously know about this member of the cruciferous (cabbage) family. I began to read more and more about it, and decided to celebrate broccoli in a post, and not just for its well-known anti-cancer properties. What I didn’t know: the cultivation of broccoli originated in Italy. The word is a the plural diminutive of brocco, a term that is no longer used in Italian that means sprout. Broccoli was known for its medicinal properties as far back as ancient Rome. Romans used broccoli leaves to treat wounds and ulcerations, and they ate raw broccoli before banquets to help their bodies absorb wine better. Broccoli was used as a laxative in the 16th century in Italy, and its juice, mixed with honey, was used to treat coughs. In the 17th century, broccoli soup was a remedy for all respiratory ailments, and 19th century Italian medical texts recommended that broccoli be used to treat colds, pleurisy and rheumatism. It was only in the early 20th century that broccoli became well-known in the U.S., thanks to Italian immigrants. However, the average U.S. consumption of broccoli is just a few pounds a year! A modern Italian folk medicine treatment for asthma and bronchitis is to drink a cup of juice from cooked and filtered broccoli leaves, sweetened with honey, twice a day. Broccoli is rich in sodium, potassium, magnesium, vitamins A, B1, B2, C, and stimulates the production of haemoglobin. In Italy, cooked broccoli is frequently eaten with the addition of lemon and extra virgin olive oil. That’s how I frequently make it. I add sliced raw garlic, too.

Broccoli and cancer. Okay, it’s not a new discovery, but it’s good to reiterate that, like other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli contains a wide spectrum of phytonutrients, such as sulforaphane, which have significant anti-cancer effects. I read that sulforaphane makes cells expel cancer-making toxins and blocks the formation of carcinogens. It has been found to induce apoptosis in leukaemia and melanoma cells. For (a lot) more information, please consult the World’s Healthiest Foods website. This website provides tips on how to store and cook veggies in season, etc. Every week, I receive the WHF newsletter. In fact, I recommend this free newsletter to everyone. Click on and sign up! There is a helpful section on how to prepare and cook broccoli. Remember not to overcook it (5 minutes at the most).

So, pass the broccoli, please!

It’s a Sunny Morning in Florence, Italy!

First of all, I have received many messages from old and new MM friends, and would like to thank everyone for the positive feedback on my blog. Grazie a tutti!

Let Spices be Thy Medicine. Is there a spice that is NOT good for us? I just re-read Prof. Aggarwal’s presentation of potential NF-kappaB inhibitors (titled: Targeting Transcription Factors for Prevention and Therapy of Cancer by Phytochemicals, and was astounded (again) at the long list of spices and foods we can use to block this transcription factor. Prof. Aggarwal’s list of spices is long. Just to mention some: turmeric, nutmeg, cumin, coriander, oregano, cinnamon, basil, dill, parsley, ginger, fennel, cloves, cardamom, rosemary, mustard, liquorice, saffron, fenugreek seeds, sesame seeds, lemongrass, mace, caraway, tamarind, Nigella Sativa, curry leaves, red pepper, red chilli, poppy seeds, mint, and anise.

What is NF-kappaB? It’s a protein complex that becomes activated in response to inflammatory stimuli, and has been linked to cancer. It interferes with apoptosis (programmed cell death) and chemotherapy, among other things. Therefore, the inhibition of NF-kappaB is the target of many cancer studies. Curcumin is one such inhibitor. The following, for the more scientifically-minded, is a link to a detailed study on NF-kappaB, titled NF-kappaB in Cancer: from Innocent Bystander to Major Culprit published in 2002: .

Life with Myeloma

I am a U.S. citizen, 45 years old, married to an Italian, and I live in Florence, Italy. In 1999, I was diagnosed with Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance or MGUS, for short, of the IgG k type. At that time, I did not understand what MGUS entailed, exactly, and that it was important for me to have blood tests done every 6 months. Back then, I had two teaching jobs and no time to do any research about MGUS. I promptly forgot all about it.
Until about four years later.
In 2003, another routine (so I thought) blood test showed that the amount of this abnormal protein in my blood had increased. My GP made the implications of MGUS clear to me, and sent me to a haematologist at Florence’s main hospital, Careggi, which has a well-known Haematology Center.
I started looking up MGUS on the Internet. I soon had a clear picture of what might lie ahead unless the amount of paraprotein in my blood remained stable. But it didn’t. It kept increasing. Slowly but steadily.
My MGUS finally progressed to MM, or multiple myeloma, in late 2005. I received the MM diagnosis on December 30, based on a BMB (bone marrow biopsy) taken in November. At that time, 50 % of my bone marrow was compromised. Even though I had been expecting this progression, I admit that I was shocked to see the words multiple myeloma printed out on the test result. Not one of my happiest moments.

Discovery of Curcumin

I soon got on my computer and began researching my options. I looked at conventional and alternative treatments. One day, while scrolling down the list of clinical trials on the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation website, I noticed that there was a curcumin clinical trial taking place at the MD Anderson Cancer Research Center of the University of Texas. Curcumin? A joke, surely.
I searched the words curcumin and myeloma on Google, and came upon the studies published in Blood (February 2003 and April 2004). I read all I could about curcumin. In the end, I was convinced. I had to try it.
Clearly, because I live in Italy, participating in the curcumin myeloma clinical trial in Texas was not an option. However, my main problem was that I had no idea how much curcumin I should be taking. In the beginning, I also mistook turmeric (the spice) for curcumin (turmeric’s active ingredient). In Italian, these are very similar words, hence the confusion. Indeed, I bought a huge supply of turmeric, which, more than a year later, I am still using in my cooking!
I wrote an e-mail to the head of the MD Anderson curcumin research team, Prof. Bharat Aggarwal, attaching my test results. I didn’t really expect him to answer. But answer he did, with a very nice message, encouraging me to try curcumin, and explaining the difference between turmeric and curcumin. He included the initial eight-week curcumin protocol. I ordered curcumin, and started the protocol, after having blood tests done and consulting with my haematologist and family. After eight weeks, I redid my blood tests, and for the first time since 1999, my IgG count had gone down, from 34.5 grams per liter to 29.8 grams per liter. Success! Since then, my IgG count has gone a bit up, then a bit down, but my markers are generally stable. A recent BMB (January 2007) showed that the level of malignancy had decreased by 20 % , from 50 to 40 %. An excellent result. My haematologist told me recently that my MM is inactive: SM, or smoldering myeloma.

My story continues…

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