Another study on curcumin’s function as an iron chelator was published in “Blood” last month (abstract: http://tinyurl.com/5fhhwd). The interesting part is that these Wake Forest University NC researchers wanted To test whether the chelator activity of curcumin is sufficient to induce iron deficiency in vivo, using mice whose diets contained graded concentrations of both iron and curcumin for 26 weeks. Well, after reading the full study, I have reached a couple of conclusions. But first, the study…
As we can read in the abstract, the researchers found that curcumin has the potential to affect systemic iron metabolism, particularly in a setting of subclinical iron deficiency. This may affect the use of curcumin in patients with marginal iron stores or those exhibiting the anemia of cancer and chronic disease.
Hmmm, doesn’t sound too good, eh. Well, now for the full study (grazie Sherlock!).
As usual, it begins with info on how curcumin has been used traditionally, how human Phase I clinical trials of curcumin have yielded good results, such as almost no toxicity, and so on. It then discusses how curcumin works—inhibition of NF-kappaB and so on. Skip, skip. Skip.
Then the study mentions a 2006 study, which I discussed in a previous post (see my Page on curcumin and iron). In a nutshell, liver cells treated with curcumin showed a decrease in ferritin, raising the possibility that the chelator activity of curcumin might be sufficient to induce systemic iron depletion, potentially triggering or exacerbating subclinical or clinical iron deficiency.
The first thing that the researchers did was put groups of mice on either high or low iron diets. Then curcumin was added to the mix, up to the equivalent of 8-12 grams a day. No toxicity from the curcumin was observed, by the way. So far, so good.
Results: the addition of curcumin had no effect on the hematocrit, haemoglobin, serum iron or transferrin saturation of the “high-iron” mice BUT it did have a dramatic effect on the “low-iron” mice. All the above-mentioned values declined; the higher the curcumin dose, the lower the values.
However, before we freak out and toss our precious bottles of curcumin into the rubbish bin, let me say that the Discussion part of the study makes a few interesting points.
1. Compared to other chelators used for the treatment of iron overload, curcumin has a moderate chelator activity.
2. Indian diets are traditionally low in bio-available iron. This is important, since Indians consume quite a bit of curcumin via the spice from which it is extracted–turmeric. So, theoretically, Indians should be an anemic population en masse with their large consumption of turmeric and low iron intake, right? Hmmm…I doubt that that is the case…
On the negative side, the mice with the iron-deficient diet ended up with iron deficiency anemia, including a decline in serum iron, decreased hematocrit, decreased transferrin saturation and appearance of hypochromic red blood cells. “Hypochromic” red blood cells means “paler than usual” red blood cells = anemia (Werriam Webster definition: marked by or being red blood cells with deficient haemoglobin).
Then we read that Curcumin also decreased iron levels in the bone marrow and spleen. And that curcumin-mediated changes in the liver were extensive: curcumin reduced liver iron, activated IRP, repressed ferritin, blablabla.
This sounds really scary, but hey, after all I have been on a high dose of curcumin for almost three years, and I am not anemic. Yes, my haemoglobin is on the low end of normal but is still hanging in there. I just checked, and, as far back as 2005, my Hgb has never been super high. So, without meaning to sound flippant, I say, no big deal. My serum iron, though, took a plunge in February, after our (Sherlock’s and mine) failed Biocurcumax experiment. So far, it hasn’t recovered, and for the past three set of tests has been slightly below the normal range. I will keep an eye on it.
At any rate, at the end of the study, the researchers make a few important points: There are two important implications of these results. First, iron chelators have been shown to exert anti-tumor effects, both through the formation of redox-active iron complexes and by iron depletion. Thus, reduction in systemic iron resulting from the use of curcumin in the setting of a low iron diet may contribute to the anti-cancer activity of curcumin. Second, curcumin may have the potential to contribute to the development of anemia in patients with marginal iron status. This may be an important consideration when curcumin is used to treat patients with marginal or depleted iron stores or those exhibiting the anemia of cancer and chronic disease.
So if you are healthy but trying to prevent the development of cancer and your iron levels are normal or high, don’t worry about taking curcumin. However, you have to be more cautious if you are a cancer patient with low iron levels. Problem is, if we, the low-iron myeloma folks, add an iron supplement to our daily intake, we may end up inhibiting curcumin’s anticancer activity (again, see my Page on curcumin and iron)…sigh. Catch-22.
My own conclusions. Driving to work this morning, I decided to wait until I get my test results in mid December before taking any action on the iron front. I will begin taking an iron supplement in December if I see that my Hgb, serum iron and ferritin levels keep dropping compared to my July tests. If I do start taking iron, though, I will wait at least 12 hours before swallowing my curcumin, so as to minimize any possible interference.
In yesterday’s post I forgot to mention that a couple of weeks ago I came across a bottle of curcumin (in my medicine cabinet) that turns out not to be the C3 Complex curcumin that I usually take. No idea where it came from, my parents must have brought it with them last spring. Anyway, each capsule contains about 850 mg of curcumin, which means that I have to take only 10 capsules a day, not 16 (bonus!). And each capsule has a bit of bioperine in it, which is good. So I decided, what the heck?, and began taking this new curcumin. That was about ten days before I had my blood tests.
But the big decision of the past few days is that I have decided to begin taking feverfew, in its capsule form. The parthenolide content is rather low, but I hope it WILL work anyway. This weekend I am going to do some research on when and how to take it (at the same time as I take my curcumin or not?), etc.
Next tests in January. My parthenolide tests. Exciting! 🙂
UPDATE: after reading this post, Sherlock wrote me a private note reminding me that her Hgb is the same as it was one year ago (=before she began taking curcumin). However, get this: her serum iron and transferrin have actually gone UP since 2007. Now that is interesting. (Hmmm, my transferrin is high, incidentally…food for thought.)
The only value that has decreased in a year’s time for Sherlock is her ferritin. So, curcumin may have a different effect on different people. After all, we are not mice! 😉