Transcript: Turmeric Curcumin, MGUS, and Multiple Myeloma
Multiple myeloma is one of the most dreaded cancers; it's a cancer of our antibody-producing plasma cells, considered one of the most intractable blood diseases for many years. The precursor disease is called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, or MGUS. When it was named, its significance was undetermined, but now we know that multiple myeloma is almost always preceded by MGUS, which makes it one of the most common premalignant disorders, with a prevalence of about 3% in the older white general population, and about two to three times that in African-American populations.
MGUS itself is asymptomatic; you don't even know you have it until your doctor finds it incidentally during routine blood work. But should it progress to multiple myeloma, you then have about four years to live. So we need to find ways to treat MGUS early, before it turns into cancer, but no such treatment exists. Rather, patients are just kind of placed in a holding pattern, with frequent checkups. But if all you're going to do is watch and wait, might as well try out some dietary changes.
The potential role of curcumin, the yellow pigment in the spice turmeric, in patients with MGUS. Why curcumin? Well, it's relatively safe, considering that it has been consumed as a dietary spice for centuries. And, it kills multiple myeloma cells. Here's the unimpeded growth of four different cell lines of multiple myeloma. You start out with 5,000 cancer cells at the beginning of the week, which then doubles, triples, quadruples in a matter of days. But if you add a little bit of curcumin or a lot of curcumin, the growth is stunted or stopped. But this is in a Petri dish. Still, exciting enough to justify trying it out in a clinical trial. And six years later, researchers did.
One can measure the progression of the disease by the rise in blood levels of paraprotein, which is what's made by MGUS and myeloma cells. About 1 in 3 of the patients responded to the curcumin with dropping paraprotein levels, whereas there were no responses in the placebo group. These positive findings prompted them to commence a double-blind, randomized, control trial, and here it is. They saw the same kind of positive biomarker response in both MGUS patients as well as those with so-called smoldering multiple myeloma, an early stage of the disease. These findings suggest that curcumin might have the potential to slow the disease process in patients, delaying or preventing the progression of MGUS to multiple myeloma, but we won't know until longer larger studies are done.
The best way to deal with multiple myeloma is to not get it in the first place. In 2010 I profiled this study, suggesting that vegetarians have just a quarter the risk of multiple myeloma compared to meat-eaters. Even just working with chicken meat may double one's risk of multiple myeloma, the thinking being that cancers like leukemias, lymphomas, and myeloma may be induced by viral agents in both cattle and chickens, so-called zoonotic, or animal-to-human-oncogenic, cancer-causing, viruses. Beef, however, was not associated with multiple myeloma.
There are, however, some vegetarian foods we may want to avoid. Harvard reported a controversial link between diet soda and multiple myeloma, implicating aspartame. French fries and potato chips should not be the way we get our vegetables, nor should we probably pickle them. While the intake of shallots, garlic, soy foods, and green tea was significantly associated with a reduced risk of multiple myeloma, intake of pickled vegetables three times a week or more was associated with increased risk.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.
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