Curcumin And Multiple Myeloma: Preclinical And Early Clinical Studies Are Promising; Still Awaiting More Clinical Evidence

Published: Feb 17, 2010 12:59 pm
Curcumin And Multiple Myeloma: Preclinical And Early Clinical Studies Are Promising; Still Awaiting More Clinical Evidence

Curcumin has been garnering increased attention as a potential anticancer treatment. It is the major active compound in turmeric, a popular Indian spice made from the rhizomes, or underground stalks, of a plant in the ginger family.

In multiple myeloma and the precursor condition monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), cell culture studies and one animal study have shown that curcumin can kill cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying. The Beacon also found two early-stage clinical trials studying curcumin’s effects in people with multiple myeloma and MGUS.  Their results were promising, but not definitive.


News articles about:
- Curcumin

Forum discussions about:

- Curcumin

All of the studies discussed here suggest that curcumin is relatively safe.

In India, where turmeric is used extensively in cooking, the average person consumes 60 to 200 mg of curcumin through his daily diet, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Medline Plus.

Studies in myeloma cells and in mice

Several recent lab studies have demonstrated that curcumin kills myeloma cells and increases the effects of conventional drug therapy:

  • At Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, China, scientists found that the addition of curcumin to melphalan (Alkeran) reduced myeloma cell proliferation, increased myeloma cell death, and increased the concentration of melphalan in cells. They found that curcumin reduces the production of a protein that helps tumor cells repair damaged DNA. The journal Annals of Hematology (abstract) published their research in September.
  • M. D. Anderson Cancer Center scientists in Houston found that curcumin slowed down the growth of multiple myeloma cells that are resistant to dexamethasone (Decadron), doxorubicin (Adriamycin), and melphalan. It also enhanced the effects of thalidomide (Thalomid) and Velcade (bortezomib). By performing experiments on mice, the researchers confirmed curcumin’s ability to augment the effect of Velcade. They published their findings in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics (abstract) in April.
  • Two older studies by the same M. D. Anderson researchers also found evidence of curcumin’s ability to kill myeloma cells, reduce or prevent myeloma cell proliferation, and enhance the effectiveness of conventional drugs. These studies appeared in the journals Blood and The Journal of Immunology (PDF) in 2003.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials on curcumin’s effects on people with multiple myeloma or MGUS have also been promising, but thus far the evidence is limited to small, preliminary studies. The Myeloma Beacon found two such studies.

  • In Sydney, Australia, one trial examined 26 people with MGUS who either took 4 g of curcumin by mouth every day for three months, then switched to a placebo, or took the placebo first for three months, then switched to the curcumin treatment. The researchers found that during the placebo phase, study participants’ abnormal protein levels either stayed steady or increased, while during the curcumin phase, participants’ protein levels either stayed steady or decreased. The curcumin treatment tended to work better for participants who had higher starting levels of abnormal protein in their serum (20 g/L or more). Two participants had to drop out of the study early because of abdominal cramping and diarrhea. The research was published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research (abstract) in September.
  • In the same issue of the Clinical Cancer Research journal, Dr. S. Vincent Rajkumar of the Mayo Clinic published a commentary (abstract) on the study. Rajkumar wrote that the study uses “nonstandard response criteria” to evaluate the participants’ responses to the curcumin therapy, and the results therefore will not affect how doctors treat people with MGUS. He added that curcumin needs further research.
  • In a Phase 1/2 clinical trial, M. D. Anderson researchers examined curcumin’s effects on two molecular pathways known to cause tumor cells to grow and spread. Twenty-nine people with multiple myeloma were divided into two groups – one group taking curcumin alone in increasing doses and the other group taking curcumin plus Bioperine, a compound from black pepper, also in increasing doses. The researchers found that curcumin reduced the growth and spread of myeloma cells, but participants did not show any statistically significant responses. Researchers reported that their study participants did not feel any significant side effects. They presented their findings at the American Society of Hematology’s (abstract) 2007 Annual Meeting.

Due to the insufficient number of clinical trials, Medline Plus gives the use of curcumin for cancer a “C” grade, which means there is “unclear scientific evidence for this use.”

Taking curcumin

Nevertheless, some myeloma experts are enthusiastic about using curcumin to treat multiple myeloma and MGUS. Because it works against many steps in cancer, curcumin is “ideal” to use against multiple myeloma, said Bharat Aggarwal, University of Texas biochemistry professor and principal investigator for many of the M. D. Anderson curcumin studies, in an International Myeloma Foundation webcast. He widely promotes the therapeutic use of curcumin through interviews, a Web site, and a book.

Margaret Graziano, diagnosed with MGUS in 1999 and smoldering myeloma in 2005, has been taking curcumin for four years. She decided to try curcumin when her myeloma markers were worsening and her hematologist suggested she start chemotherapy.

She told her doctor she wanted to try taking curcumin for eight weeks before starting any chemotherapy. Her doctor agreed to delay treatment. After the eight weeks were up, her myeloma markers had improved to the point that her diagnosis returned to smoldering, with no need for chemotherapy. She has been considered a smoldering myelma patient ever since.

“I am almost one hundred percent positive that, had I not taken this yellow powder, I would have progressed to active myeloma by now. Just a gut feeling, though,” wrote Graziano, who takes curcumin supplements daily, in an email to The Myeloma Beacon. Her hematologist knows about the supplements she takes and supports her, she added.

Those who decide to try curcumin should keep in mind that at this time, it is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as a dietary supplement. Companies who make it are responsible for ensuring its safety, but do not need to register with the FDA.

After a supplement is on the market, the FDA monitors its safety but not its effectiveness. There is not yet any medical standard for how much curcumin patients should take, or how often. Trials in multiple myeloma and in other cancers have tested varying doses.

Patients can read tips on how to choose supplements on the FDA’s Web site. They can also find information on potential side effects and drug interactions on Medline.

Multiple myeloma patients may have to wait a while before the efficacy of curcumin is studied according to modern medicine’s standards. Meanwhile, patients have numerous preclinical and early clinical trials and other resources to consider before choosing whether to take curcumin supplements. Patients should always consult their physicians before taking any supplements.

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  • Malcolm said:

    It always amuses me to hear that standard line that there is not yet enough research to warrant taking the vitamin , mineral or in this case plant extract. Shall we wait until we are dead? In the case of curcumin and many other substances such as vitamin D, C etc., the risk of harm from supplementing is extremely low to non-existent while the potential benefit is huge. So why not recommend it to people? In the case of cucumin, M. D. Anderson Caner Center has used a dose of 8 grams/day without harm.
    See Margaret's myeloma blog, an excellent blog where curcumin is the basis of treatment.

  • Lawrence Dumas said:

    We use curcumin in much of our cooking. They do not want to upstage the pharmasutical industry to have natural cures that cost next to nothing in cost. They want their big profits. My wifes revalimid costs $8000.00 per month. It would be nice to have a cure or a remission drug that costs substantially less. They want to break the baby boomers anyway. They are hoping to have them die as soon as possible to save money on health care social security and medicare. We will keep plugging for a cure!

  • Julie Shilane said:

    There is an ongoing discussion about curcumin in our forums.

  • nicol cons said:

    Buna ziua,
    sotul meu a fost diagnosticat in noiembrie 2010 cu mielom si va rog sa-mi spuneti cum sa ia curcumina? praful(ce doza?) dizolvat sau pastlile cu curcumina?

    My husband was diagnosed with myeloma in November 2010. Please tell me how to take curcumin. What dose? Should the powder be dissolved?

  • greg said:

    what is the typical dosage of curcumin, and how is it taken?

  • Myeloma Beacon Staff said:


    Studies haven't really supported any particular dose, since it's still unclear whether curcumin is effective for myeloma. However, it seems that the majority of patients who use curcumin take 4 or 8 grams (12 grams max) of curcumin daily in the form of several capsules or as a powder. You can find a detailed description one patient's protocol here.

  • John said:

    Curcumin is lipid(oil) soluble. For some reason I started taking turmeric a number of months ago in vegetable juice. I add about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil so that the curcumin is dissolved plus the olive oil is healthy.
    From what I have read, to be effective, a fat of some kind should be present. I choose olive oil.

  • sandeep said:

    I, Sandeep, based at Mumbai, saw your website in the internet. My brother-in-law, 38 yrs old has been diagnosed with multiple myeloma four months ago. He has been treated with chemotherapy since September 2011 in Mumbai. Initially there was good response with the chemo but later the disease is relapsed which was confirmed by PET scan. Although the treating doctor is planning for another type of chemo but doctor is much optimistic about this. Now he has been admitted to hospital as he was complaining of body pain and uneasiness a week back.
    What is your opinion on the case? Can it be controllable/curable?

    Sandeep Dasgupta

  • suzierose said:

    Hi Sandeep!!
    Sorry to hear your brother-in-law has relapsed.

    You may want to post your query here to get a good response from the Beacon medical advisors.

  • benandliz said:

    My wife has MM going on two years. She is on the typical regimen-revlamid, velcade and so forth. We met Steve a few months ago, he too has MM. His oncologist is out of Boston. She is from India. He queried her about the use of curcumin in his diet. According to him she resisted any discussion (online, telephone) until he met her one on one. It was only when he was in Boston and they were alone outside that she strongly recommended him to take curcumin. Curcumin found in turmeric is a very common spice used in Indian cooking.

    Today Liz is taking curcumin capsules, turmeric in our recipes, red wine, chamomille tea and an apricot seed once a day. If this combo improves her numbers she is opting out of chemo. Please Lord.

  • Rashi said:

    Recently, my mother diagnosed MM. She is 68 years old. She is undergoing treatment Bortezomib inj.(weekly), dexamethasone Tab (weekly), Zoldrea Inj.(once in a month), Thalidomide Tab. (daily). Her weekly reports are not showing much progress. Recently her ribs & shoulders pain started....Can any one revert with effective & balanced diet.