Benefits of Turmeric Curcumin for Uveitis and Eye Cancer

In 1989, ophthalmologists in India found that eyedrops made from the spice turmeric (known as haridra in India) seemed to work just as well as antibiotic eyedrops in the treatment of conjunctivitis, or pink eye. So, researchers decided to give turmeric a try against more serious inflammatory eye diseases like uveitis, which blinds tens of thousands of Americans every year. Uveitis is often an autoimmune or infectious inflammation of the central structures in the eye. Steroids, given to knock down people’s immune systems, are the standard treatment, but they also carry a slew of side effects.

Researchers tried giving uveitis sufferers oral supplements of curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric thought to be responsible in part for the spice’s anti-inflammatory effects. Eighteen patients were given curcumin alone, and every one improved, showing “efficacy…comparable to corticosteroid therapy,” but without any side effects.

A larger, follow-up study was similarly encouraging. A total of 106 patients who had had a uveitis relapse in the year before starting curcumin were followed for a year. As you can see at 1:10 in my video in my video, Benefits of Turmeric Curcumin for Inflammatory Orbital Pseudotumor, only 19 had relapses in the year after starting curcumin. Altogether, the 106 patients had had multiple relapses—a total of 275 times—in the year before starting curcumin, but, in the year on curcumin, they had only 36 relapses.

If turmeric curcumin works for mild eye inflammation and serious eye inflammation, what about really serious eye inflammation, like idiopathic inflammatory orbital pseudotumours. Let’s break that down: “Idiopathic” means doctors have no idea what causes it—from the Greek idios, as in idiot. “Orbital” refers to the bony cavity that houses our eyeball, and “pseudotumor,” as in not really a tumor. A lot has changed since the study was published in 2000. “[I]nflammatory orbital pseudotumour is now generally attributed to low-grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” so it does appear to be a form of cancer. Well, what can curcumin do about it?

The researchers decided to look at curcumin because the available treatments are so toxic—steroids, radiation, and chemotherapy. In fact, all of the patients in the study were initially put on steroids but had to stop them because they either did not work or they had to be withdrawn because of complications. The researchers didn’t want to use radiation because they didn’t want to blind anyone. But they had to do something. All of the patients had so much swelling that they couldn’t move their eye as they normally would. If only there were some cheap, simple, and safe solution.

Four out of the five patients who completed the study with curcumin therapy had a full response, defined as complete recovery with no residual signs or symptoms. In fact, complete regression of the eye dislocation and swelling occurred in all five out of five patients, but one patient continued to suffer some residual effects.

Mind-blowing, don’t you think? For more on what turmeric can do, see:

Who Shouldn’t Consume Curcumin or Turmeric? Learn the answer to this excellent question by watching my video.

Is the whole spice or curcumin extract better? See Turmeric Curcumin: Plants vs. Pills and Boosting the Bioavailability of Curcumin.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

The Foods With the Highest Aspirin Content

The results of a recent aspirin meta-analyses suggesting a reduction of cancer mortality by about one-third in subjects taking daily low-dose aspirin “can justly be called astounding.” Yet the protection from “Western” cancers enjoyed by those eating more traditional plant-centered diets, such as the Japanese, “is even more dramatic.” I examine this in my video Plants with Aspirin Aspirations.

Before the Westernization of their diets, animal products made up only about 5 percent or less of the Japanese diet. At 0:37 in my video, you can see the difference in cancer mortality of U.S. men and women compared with Japanese men and women. “[A]ge-adjusted death rates from cancers of the colon, prostate, breast, and ovary were on the order of 5–10-fold lower in Japan than in the US at that time; mortality from pancreatic cancer, leukemias, and lymphomas was 3–4-fold lower in Japan. But this phenomenon was by no means isolated to Japan; Western cancers were likewise comparatively rare in other societies where “people ate plant-based diets.”

“The cancer protection afforded by lifelong consumption of a plant-based diet, in conjunction with leanness and insulin sensitivity (which tend to be promoted by low-fat plant-based diets)…may be very substantial indeed.” Therefore, a “lifestyle protocol for minimizing cancer risk” may include a whole-food plant-based diet.

If part of this cancer protection arises out of the aspirin phytonutrients in plants, are there any plants in particular that are packed with salicylates? Though salicylic acid, the main active ingredient in aspirin, is “ubiquitously present in fruits and vegetables,” the highest concentrations are found in herbs and spices.

Red chili powder, paprika, and turmeric contain a lot of salicylates, but cumin is about 1 percent aspirin by weight. Eating a teaspoon of cumin is like taking a baby aspirin. (See the table at 1:54 in my video for details on other herbs and spices, and their salicylate content.) “Consequently, populations that incorporate substantial amounts of spices in foods may have markedly higher daily intakes of salicylates. Indeed, it has been suggested that the low incidence of colorectal cancer among Indian populations may be ascribed in part to high exposure to dietary salicylates throughout life from spice consumption.”

“The population of rural India, with an incidence of colorectal cancer which is one of the lowest in the world, has a diet that could be extremely rich in salicylic acid. It contains substantial amounts of fruits, vegetables, and cereals flavored with large quantities of herbs and spices.” Some have proposed it’s the curcumin in the spice turmeric (which I discuss in detail in my video Turmeric Curcumin and Colon Cancer), but it may be the salicylic acid in cumin—and the spicier the better.

A spicy vegetable vindaloo may have four times the salicylates of a milder Madras-style veggie dish. As you can see from the chart at 2:55 in my video, after just one meal, we get an aspirin spike in our bloodstream like we just took an aspirin. So, eating flavor-filled vegetarian meals, with herbs and spices, may be more chemoprotective—that is, more protective against cancer—than regular, blander vegetarian meals.

We may also want to eat organic produce. “Because salicylic acid is a defense hormone of plants, the concentration…is increased when plants become stressed,” like when they are bitten by bugs (unlike pesticide-laden plants). Indeed, soups made from organic vegetables were found to have nearly six times more salicylic acid than soups prepared from conventionally grown ingredients.

We should also choose whole foods. Whole-grain breads, which are high in salicylic acid, contain about 100 times more phytochemicals than white bread: 800 phytochemicals compared to 8.

“Interest in the potential beneficial effects of dietary salicylates has arisen, in part, because of the extensive literature on the disease-preventative effects of Aspirin™. However, it should not be forgotten that plant products found to contain salicylic acid are generally rich sources of other phenolic acids…[and many] also have a marked anti-inflammatory and redox-related bioactivity [that is, antioxidant activity] in mammalian cells. Their potential protective effects should not be overlooked. In this context, the importance of dietary salicylic acid should not perhaps be over emphasised…Indeed, some believe that ‘salicylic acid deficiency’ has important public health implications and that it should be classed as an essential vitamin, namely ‘Vitamin S’.”

What they’re saying is that we should all eat a lot of plants.

If you missed the first two videos in this series, see Should We All Take Aspirin to Prevent Heart Disease? and Should We All Take Aspirin to Prevent Cancer?.

The drug-like anti-inflammatory power of certain plant foods may make them a risky proposition during pregnancy. See Caution: Anti-Inflammatory Foods in the Third Trimester.

Herbs and spices not only have some of the most anti-inflammatory properties, but they also are well-rounded protectants. See:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

The Downside of Curcumin Supplements

Supplement manufacturers often fall into the same reductionist trap as the drug companies. Herbs are assumed to have only one main active ingredient, so, as the thinking goes, if you can isolate and purify it into a pill, you can boost its effects. Curcumin is described as the active ingredient in turmeric, but is it the active ingredient or just an active ingredient? It is just one of many different components—more than 300, in fact—of the whole food spice.

“Only limited studies have compared the potential of turmeric with curcumin.” Some, however, suggest turmeric, the whole food, may work even better—and not just against colon cancer cells. As I discuss in my video Turmeric or Curcumin: Plants vs. Pills, researchers at the Anderson Cancer Center in Texas pitted both curcumin and turmeric against seven different types of human cancer cells in vitro.

The study found that curcumin kicks tush against breast cancer cells, but turmeric, the whole food, kicks even more. In addition to breast cancer, the researchers found that turmeric was more potent compared to curcumin against pancreatic cancer, colon cancer, multiple myeloma, myelogenous leukemia, and colorectal cancer cells, “suggesting that components other than curcumin can also contribute to anti-cancer activities.”

Most clinical studies treating diseases in people have used curcumin supplements, as opposed to turmeric, but none has tried using turmeric components other than curcumin, even though curcumin-free turmeric exhibits anti-inflammatory and anticancer activities.

“Although curcumin is believed to account for most activities of turmeric, research over the past decade has indicated that curcumin-free turmeric”—that is, turmeric with the so-called active ingredient removed—“is as effective as or even more effective than curcumin-containing turmeric.” There are turmerones, for example, in turmeric, which may exhibit both anticancer activities, as well as anti-inflammatory activities, but these turmerones are processed out of curcumin supplements. So, I assumed this review would conclude by stating we should stop giving people curcumin supplements and instead just give them the whole food spice turmeric, but instead the researchers proposed that we make all sorts of different turmeric-derived supplements!

That’s quite a rebut to reductionism. For more on this flawed nutritional philosophy, see my video Reductionism and the Deficiency Mentality.

Similar videos in this vein include:

Interested in learning more about turmeric and cancer? See:

And for more on turmeric and everything else:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: