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Curcumin - An eastern healer

Curcumin and Colon Polyps

A somewhat rare condition might lead researchers to a noninvasive cancer solution for people with a far more common condition: colorectal polyps.

Years in the making

Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) is a hereditary condition that affects only about 10,000 people in the U.S. FAP patients typically begin to develop numerous benign polyps in the colon when they’re only in their teens.

Polyps continue to multiply into the hundreds and sometimes thousands as FAP patients age. Eventually the polyps become malignant, usually when patients reach their 50s. Before malignancy, polyps can be removed during colonoscopy, although this may not be practical with patients who have very high polyp counts. Once malignancy begins, the colon has to be removed.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and COX-2 inhibitors can sometimes reverse the progression of polyps, but as I’ve noted in many e-Alerts, these drugs commonly produce harsh adverse side effects when taken on a regular basis.

Flavorful and pungent

Previous studies have shown that curcumin produces anti-inflammatory effects that may fight cancer.

Curcumin is a yellow pigment in the root of turmeric, an herb in the ginger family. Curry gets its pungent flavor from curcumin, which was used for many centuries by Indian Ayurvedic healers to treat indigestion, arthritis and urinary tract disorders.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently tested the effects of curcumin and quercetin (a plant flavanoid found in apples and onions) on five FAP patients.


  • All subjects received supplements containing 480 mg of curcumin and 20 mg of quercetin three times each day for six months
  • The number and size of polyps were evaluated at the beginning and end of the study
  • Results showed a 60 percent decrease in the number of polyps, on average
  • The average size of polyps was reduced by more than 50 percent

About halfway through the study, researchers found that one subject had not been taking his supplements. A check of his polyps showed their number had increased. But after restarting the daily supplement regimen, the number of polyps dropped by the end of the trial period.

Handle with care

Johns Hopkins researcher, Francis Giardiello, M.D., told FoodNavigator that the amount of quercetin used in the study was similar to the daily quercetin intake that many people get through a normal diet. But the curcumin intake provided by the supplement was many times higher than the amount of curcumin that could be consumed through dietary intake.

Dr. Giardiello believes that the positive results of the study might be primarily due to the curcumin supplement. He also notes that eating onions and curry won’t necessarily produce the same protective effect of supplemental extracts. The Hopkins team is currently planning a large intervention study to further explore the effect of curcumin extract on colon polyps.

Talk to your doctor or a healthcare professional before taking curcumin or quercetin supplements. Although only a few mild side effects were reported in the Hopkins trial, some people experience stomach upset and even ulcers with high doses of curcumin. Also, curcumin is known to thin the blood, so it should not be taken with anti-coagulants or anti-inflammatory drugs.