Note: this is my third in a series of posts about turmeric. To get the full story on why I decided to take the supplement and possible contraindications to supplementing, please see my first and second posts.
I’d intended to get this post up earlier, but my current chemo regimen makes me prone to long naps on the couch.
Though truth be told, this post was also harder for me to write. I’m still figuring out the dosing and which brand of supplement I should go with. I’ll share what I learned from my research, and perhaps you, dear readers, can make suggestions or tell me about your own experiences with different brands.
Once I made the decision to take a turmeric supplement, I looked to see what was available on Amazon. Pages and pages of options came up – I clicked through more than ten before realizing that I needed more pubmed.gov research time.
I learned three main points:
1) Turmeric as a whole spice works better than isolated curcumin.
A study comparing turmeric to curcumin found:
…in breast cancer cells curcumin induced 33% growth inhibition, while 66% growth inhibition was observed by turmeric containing equivalent amount of curcumin. A similar trend was observed with other tumor cells. These observations indicate that components other than curcumin might contribute to the potency of turmeric. (emphasis mine)
Not surprising if you consider that turmeric has more than 300 components in total, though curcumin has been the one most thoroughly studied. A review article provides a good graphic of the most promising compounds found in turmeric besides curcumin:
Some of these compounds, including turmerones, elemene, furanodiene, cyclocurcumin, calebin A and germacrone have inhibited growth or induced apoptosis (cell death) in many different types of human cancer cells.
I also found an article published late last year describing yet another turmeric-derived compound, β-sesquiphellandrene (SQP). The authors found SQP to be highly effective in suppressing cancer cell colony formation and inducing apoptosis. SQP is also synergistic with the chemotherapeutic agents velcade, thalidomide and capecitabine (Xeloda, the chemo regimen that I’m on right now!)
So I’d be missing out on all that synergy if I took a supplement containing curcumin alone.
The supplement with is label wouldn’t do, since it only contains 25mg of all the other compounds besides curcumin.
Instead, I was looking for ingredients like:
According to the label above, there’s about 95mg of curcumin per two capsules, but also 900mg of turmeric spice with its full spectrum of beneficial compounds. The 10mg of black pepper claimed on the label is also a plus.
Which brings me to my second point – another aspect of turmeric that challenges researchers:
2) Turmeric is not water-soluble and our bodies have trouble absorbing it. Fats and piperine from black pepper help make turmeric more bioavailable.
This insight allowed me to eliminate supplements that did not contain that black pepper extract. While there are also a few supplements on the market that package the turmeric and black pepper alongside oils to further improve bioavailability, I planned to take capsules with meals. I’m hoping that fats from the eggs I have for breakfast or the fish I have for dinner are enough to help at least some of the turmeric be absorbed.
I was still worried, however, that I wouldn’t be getting enough turmeric or curcumin to really make a difference with my tumors. Studies in humans showed that a curcumin dose as low as 1.8 grams per day produced a “measurable pharmacodynamic change,” but what does that actually mean? It’s unclear how much of the curcumin was actually absorbed into tissues. Other studies used doses of 4 – 8 g — it’s been administered safely at up to 12 g daily over 3 months in clinical trials.
I decided to aim for 3 – 4 grams per day to start with. Since most supplements have about 1 g of turmeric/curcumin per serving (which can be two or three capsules), I’d need to take capsules with every meal and maybe sometimes with snacks. That gets expensive!
Worse, such a regimen won’t necessarily ensure that I ingest those promised 3 – 4 grams. It’s a leap of faith on my part, since supplements are not reviewed by the FDA before they go to market. Third-party verification is, unfortunately, not widespread in the turmeric supplement industry, so I have little choice but to believe the bottle labels. Even the brands claiming organic turmeric don’t seem to have third-party verification to back up those statements.
But I could hedge my bets by taking capsules from a few different brands. The third major thing I learned about turmeric/curcumin:
3) Researchers are formulating more bioavailable forms of curcumin.
One such preparation, dubbed Theracurmin, achieved dramatically higher absorption rates in mice and humans by disbursing curcumin with colloidal nano-particles. I’ve come across other formulations using nano-particles, but Theracurmin was the only one I could find on Amazon.
I ended up ordering the Theracurmin and another supplement that included turmeric as well as curcumin. I also got a bottle of turmeric capsules from my local Whole Foods. Between the three, I might be getting something close to the intended dose. It adds up to a lot of money, but I feel like I have to give this experiment my best shot.
I’ll have no idea what the supplements are doing, if anything, till I get scans and tests after this third cycle of chemo. I’ll post updates once I get those results.