INTRODUCTION. You may remember my March 28, 30 and April 1 2010 posts about a study by Vermorken et al on the possible dangers of taking curcumin. If you don’t, then please have a look at the three rants…I mean, at the three POSTS, before proceeding any further:
March 28, 2010: http://margaret.healthblogs.org/2010/03/28/a-word-of-caution-against%E2%80%A6another-word-of-caution-part-1/
March 30, 2010: http://margaret.healthblogs.org/2010/03/30/brussels-sprouts-instead-of-broccoli-part-2/
And then, the clincher. April 1, 2010: http://margaret.healthblogs.org/2010/04/01/
Well, here we go again…
About two years after the first study, here is another one, available for free online: http://goo.gl/oqzE9 (click on “PDF” to download the full text). This 2012 study has an ominous question contained in its title: “What can we hope for, what should we fear?” Uhm, what should we “FEAR”???!!! Holy cats! Now I’m scared! 😉
Naaaah, let’s not panic. It’s just one of those eye-catching titles…Let’s see if it really means anything…
This time, even though you can read the full study on your own, I decided to go through it with you almost step by step, only skipping the stuff that I didn’t find as interesting or that we already know (what MGUS is, blablabla) and adding my own comments, right or wrong as they may be. In case it’s not obvious, I’m annoyed…but also as cool and calm as a purring cat (see photo)… 😉
CHAPTER ONE. I actually agree with a few things these authors write. First and foremost: it’s not a good idea for EVERYONE to take curcumin, the active ingredient of the spice turmeric. For example, I wouldn’t take it if I were trying to get pregnant (either gender)…or if I had gallstones…Or if I had any of the medical conditions listed on my Warnings and Side Effects page…
And I also agree with them that curcumin probably isn’t going to help all cancer patients. I mean, it’s just like anything else. We’re all different, so it makes total sense that some of us will do well or even really well on curcumin, whereas others won’t.
That said, let’s get down to business.
The first thing we read in the abstract is that curcumin is considered to be safe for healthy people but possibly not for those with MGUS: Curcumin might be helpful for some but certainly not for all patients with monoclonal gammopathies. Intriguing statement. I agree, sort of. As I said earlier, if you have gallstones, e.g., you shouldn’t take it, since curcumin increases bile production (but if you don’t have gallstones, curcumin will prevent their formation…).
Then we get to the study’s “Introduction,” which gives us an idea of what the main argument is going to be: The anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin comes, however, at a price: immunosuppression.
Aaaaaah, immunosuppression. Well, since I’ve discussed my own (lack of!) immunosuppression in a recent post (March 22nd), I won’t use myself as an example here. Just go have a look at that post, if you haven’t read it…
Skip skip skip.
The introduction ends with this statement: Because myeloma is a devastating incurable condition while MGUS and SMM are often asymptomatic, patients with a high-risk MGUS and with SMM are candidates for preventive strategies. It is absolutely essential for a preventive approach that it does not itself increase the risk of progression.
Again, I agree. The problem is that conventional treatments don’t fall into that “won’t increase the risk of progression” category. Conventional treatments are harsh, very harsh, and let’s not forget that the International Myeloma Working Group is NOT in favor of an “early intervention” approach, since there are no benefits. Indeed, there are many potential hazards (loss in quality of life, etc.).
And that’s what my own position is: don’t poke the sleeping dragon (=myeloma). Conventional treatments (in my opinion, and obviously I am referring to MGUS and SMM situations) have a high “poke-the-dragon” risk. Too high…again, in my opinion…
But I do agree with what the authors say about the current impossibility of identifying patients who would benefit from taking curcumin. There haven’t been enough clinical trials, they say. I’d like to add that there will probably NEVER be enough clinical trials, which in most cases are sponsored by the big pharmaceutical companies… Curcumin simply isn’t profitable enough, so it gets essentially ignored by big pharma… And that is why I am extremely thankful for the persistence and dedication of researchers such as Terry Golombick (Australian curcumin-MGUS trial). (FOR THE RECORD: I wrote this post over the weekend, that is, before Dr. Golombick left a comment on my March 22nd post… 🙂 )
CHAPTER TWO. Then we get to this statement: It should be kept in mind that in multiple myeloma, so far, no significant activity of curcumin has been noted in clinical trials in which the validated endpoints used for other myeloma drugs  were applied to adjudicate efficacy of therapy.
You know, the more I think about it, the more I believe that this sort of comparison makes no sense whatsoever. How can you possibly compare an incredibly toxic, poisonous substance that kills everything in sight (good and bad cells alike) to a natural, nontoxic extract that inhibits or kills only bad cells but that clearly isn’t as strong or as fast or as effective or as well absorbed?
Just a quick aside: I was actually shocked to read some official recommendations for the handling of chemo drugs. It gave me an idea of how toxic these substances are. Here are a few of the randomly picked websites I looked at: http://goo.gl/fOizv (a guide on how to administer, handle and dispose of chemotherapy) and http://goo.gl/P6qu4 (the story of a healthcare worker exposed to chemotherapy).
Curcumin, on the other hand, has no handling problems. You can rub it all over your body or EAT it. In other words, it won’t harm you in any way, oh, except it might stain your hands a bit (so wash ’em in very warm water after taking your daily dose!). Huge difference, I’d say.
The problem is that we are impatient. We like and want quick fixes. Conventional drugs, when they work (sometimes they don’t, and that should be noted), have the potential to bring down our paraprotein levels quickly, etc. etc. etc. With curcumin, there are no quick fixes. By the way, before you get your knickers tied in a knot (love that expression!): I’m not implying that anyone should go off chemotherapy and take curcumin instead. That’s not my point, here.
My point is: we just can’t compare honeybees to Godzilla ( = that was the first image that popped into my silly mind…).
The real issue for me is how to increase the strength and efficacy of curcumin without turning it into something toxic (which might risk waking up the dragon!). If that could be achieved, then we could use the above-mentioned endpoints.
As things stand now, though, we just have to be content with the small improvements in our markers or with being stable. Of course, stable is always good!!! 🙂
I have to get back to work now (an incredibly boring translationzzzzzz), so that’s it for today. But I have written a few more rant-and-rave chapters on this study…soooo, stay tuned!!!