More on curcumin and iron

Another study on curcumin’s function as an iron chelator was published in “Blood” last month (abstract: 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! 😉


  1. Margaret,

    I know you’re not big on mentioning brands but can you share what brand of curcumin you found with 850mg of curc and perine? I’d be interested in that stuff.


  2. Hi Chris,

    Well okay, it is the NSI Vitacost brand, the one with 855 mg of curcumin and 5 mg bioperine. You can find it on the Vitacost website. But I didn’t tell you that. 😉 Besides, I don’t even know if it works or not. I took it for only 10 days before my recent tests.


    P.S. I am simply a Vitacost customer. I have no financial or other interest in that company. Just wanted to make that clear!

  3. Margaret,

    Thanks, I found it now. I am interested in this because I use 16 of the C3/Bioperine capsules a day and that much bioperine seems to be a bit irritating to my stomach, and I eat pretty spicy curries!

    I figure this halves the amount of bioperine in relative concentration, for good or bad.


  4. Hi Margaret,
    I think I read somewhere that it is not recommeded to take more than 15mg of bioperine a day. Have you come across that type of statement?

  5. Yes, I have seen that 15 mg warning, but I have also read different numbers. I have read that up to 40 mg a day is okay. I don’t think the experts really know. Just to be safe, though, I have eliminated black pepper from my diet. I don’t cook with it, nor do I add it to my food.

    Take care,

  6. Margaret – my husband Scott had a SCT in August 08. He was DX in Feb 08 – I have him taking Curcumin from a company in the states called . He is taking 8 grams a day – but his pills are 1000mg of the C3 complex with bioperine – check it out – they ship internationally too – I have been so pleased with them & we get the value pack of 4 bottles at a time & they always throw in some extras . Scott started out with an M spike of 40 & it is now down to 2.8 so we are to “forget” about the disease for 6 months ( no treatment) – take a trip & enjoy life with our 4 & 6 year old boys. Sounds good – anyway – I sure hope that the curcumin keeps his spike down . Here is some info from ageless cures :Curcuminoids are considered to be “bio-protectants” due to their prevention and intervention activity. Ageless Cures Super Ageless Curcumin with Bioperine is better because it • Contains 1000 mg of Purest Curcumin standardized to 95% for the highest purity and concentration, • Contains Bioperine®, which promotes absorption of nutrients in the GI tract. Ageless Cures Super Curcumin with Bioperine® contains Curcumin C3 Complex®, a unique, patented, standardized extract of Curcuma longa root, noted as the best curcumin source available. Bioperine® is a patented bioavailability enhancer derived from piperine, a component of black pepper, which has been found in clinical studies to increase the bioavailability of curcumin ten fold.

    Bioperine Supports increased nutrient absorption in the intestines and is a patented extract (U.S. Patent #5,536,506) that consists of at least 95% piperine from the black pepper fruit. Bioperine extract is a very strong natural bio-availability enhancer for nutrients which has been scientifically proven to significantly improve the uptake and utilization of several key nutritional supplements through its thermogenic-enhancing properties.

    Bioperine is a standardized extract obtained from black pepper, containing not less than 95% piperine. The product is a natural bioavailability enhancer for nutrients and is proven to improve the uptake and utilization of several nutritional supplements including vitamins, antioxidants and minerals

    For more information on BioPerine®, visit: The National Cancer Institute is currently developing curcumin as a drug for the treatment of cancer. The rationale behind this effort is based on the combination of potential chemo preventive mechanisms, the validated biological activity in preclinical studies and its proven safety to humans.

    This is the highest dosage of purest and most potent curcumin available in caplet form (3-5 gms curcumin = 100 gms turmeric). 1000 mg contains a minimum of 95% curcuminoids, the full range of antioxidants extracted from Turmeric along with 5mg of Bioperine (black pepper fruit extract) for maximum absorption.

    Scott has no trouble taking 8 a day – he takes 4 in the am with flax seed oil & 4 at bedtime with flax oil. He has no side effects at all. He also take a multi & 200 mg of resveratrol. He has been on Kidney dialysis since April but his kidneys appear to be healing & they are slowly cutting his dialysis times back – curcumin has a healing affect on the kidneys – hmhmhmh have to believe its helping there too.
    Thanks – jsut wanted to passon this info – Shannon

  7. Hi Shannon, thanks for this bit of good news. I haven’t tried the Ageless cures curcumin, but I know of it. It’s great to receive feedback on products.

    I have read of the renoprotective effect of curcumin, and also, by the way, of quercetin. So I think you are right: curcumin is probably having a healing effect on Scott’s kidneys. I must say, though, it’s one thing to read this stuff in a study, quite another to have a first-hand report! So thanks a lot for sharing your story. 🙂

    Take care,

  8. Hi Margaret,
    First, your work in putting this blog together is so appreciated. The information and encouragement must restore hope to many with MM and their families.
    I just wanted to clarify something about your own protocol at the moment. Earlier, you were taking curcumin in powder form, dissolved into hot milk, etc. Lately I am under the impression that you are now taking capsules. Is that right? We are in Australia and it is difficult to get curcumin in a powder form (other than in HUGE quantities). Are the capsules as effective or is there a benefit in dissolving the curcumin first?
    Thanks again,

  9. Hi Gill,

    You are right, I am currently taking 8 grams of curcumin in its capsule form (the type with bioperine). I also take quercetin with bromelain capsules (about 10 minutes before the curcumin) and fish oil capsules. And, since last Saturday, also one feverfew pill/day, which I take about a half hour before all the above-mentioned stuff.

    As for any benefits in dissolving curcumin, hmmm, hard to say. We are all different, so what works for me may not work for you, etc. The only way to tell is to try taking it in different ways. Experimenting, though, takes a bit of patience, which is fine if you are MGUS or smoldering and stable. If I were at a higher stage or if my markers began worsening, though, I might not be so patient…eh, in fact, I already have a plan if that day should come (=the kitchen sink approach, basically).

    Hope this helps,

  10. Hi Margaret,

    for my SM (or MM phase 1a) I had 3 blood tests this year:
    1) March ‘08, 2) June ’08 and 3) September ’08.
    I started to take curcumin (following your protocol) at the end of July 2008, a few days after discovering your site. I had never taken it before in my life.
    Let’s come to the results:
    1) March: haemoglobin: 14.7; hematocrit: 42.9; red blood cells: 4.65
    2) June: haemoglobin: 14.4; hematocrit: 41.8; red blood cells: 4.57
    3) September: haemoglobin: 14.3; hematocrit: 41.6; red blood cells: 4.54
    If we compare the result of June to those of March (no curcumin period) we can see a small decrease of the 3 values, which is bad.
    If we compare the result of September to those of June (almost full curcumin period) we can see a smaller decrease of the 3 values, which is bad, but better than in the period without curcumin.
    I know that the “experiment” is limited in time and types of parameters (sorry I have no data about serum iron, transferritin), though the results indicate that, with curcumin, the decrease (bad) of haem., hem. & RBC was slower than without.

    (I hope my english is not too bad).
    Many thanks for all your work!!!


  11. My husband was diagnosed with acute leukemia of multilineal origin. He is not a good candidate for chemotherapy. He is currently taking a lot of supplements and herbs, including curcumin. He has just started taking feverfew in tincture format. We are looking for any articles that could guide us in terms of dosage amounts. I am also concerned about combining curcumin with feverfew since his platelet count is quite low right now (hemoglobin too). Has anyone run across any info related to feverfew dosage?

  12. Hi Debby,

    I tried to contact you privately but my message was blasted into smithereens by the Mailer Daemon (so was a second message) so there is no way I can get in touch with you except here. I hope you read this.

    Let’s see. There is not much info on dosage. I did find this, though:

    It made me realize that I am undoubtedly not taking anywhere near the dose that I should be taking to obtain an effect. Hmmm. I am taking Mygrafew, which has 3% PTL, or 600 mcg. One pill a day. I thought I would begin with the recommended (on the bottle) dose, and see how it goes. Primum, non nocere.

    As for low platelet count, I can’t answer your question except to say that mine goes up and down. There is not much difference between pre-curcumin and now. A bit down in July, but still within the normal range. I haven’t done any research on feverfew (PTL) and platelet count.

    This is not very helpful, I know. Hmmm, one person you might contact is Craig T. Jordan. He is one of the DMAPT researchers and might be able to help you. His e-mail is readily available online.

    Anyway, sorry not to be of much help in this particular instance.

    Please let me know how things go.

    Take care,

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