Leukemia is cancer that causes the production of abnormal blood cells (usually white).
There are several types of leukemia, classified based on whether it is acute or chronic.
Leukemia is identified to be acute or chronic. The acute leukemia is characterized by rapid multiplication of immature blood cells or blasts.
Chronic leukemia involves slow replication of mature blood cells.
The acute form of this disease worsens fast as the blood cells that cannot function properly divide rapidly. However, the chronic form is developed slowly as the multiplication of abnormal cells is slow and therefore, remains unnoticed for a long time.
Leukemia is also identified as lymphocytic and myelogenous. Both these types are further categorized into acute or chronic.
The lymphocytic leukemia affects the lymphocytes, i.e. the cells that form lymphatic tissue which makes up the immune system.
Myelogenous leukemia affects the myeloid cells, i.e. the cells that form red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
Acute lymphocytic leukemia usually affects children, while other types affect adults.
Older adults, those exposed to chemical or ionizing radiation, those with Down syndrome, Hodgkin’s disease or Fanconi’s anemia, smokers, hereditary causes, some drugs, chromosomal abnormalities are some causes of leukemia.
The symptoms of leukemia include frequent infections, bone and joint pain, fatigue, fever, night sweats, weight loss, easy bruising or bleeding, anemia, swollen lymph node, enlarged liver or spleen etc.
The cause of leukemia is thought to be the mutation in the cells that produce blood. There are various risk factors associated with it such as genetic inheritance, smoking or exposure to certain carcinogens and radiations.
People with a certain disease like Fanconi anemia (a bone marrow disease), neurofibromatosis, Bloom syndrome, Down’s syndrome etc are also at a risk of developing leukemia.
Other surgical procedures and alternative therapies are some ways of treating leukemia. Homeopathy and acupuncture are said to relieve some symptoms. Nutritional supplements can address nutritional deficiencies caused by aggressive treatment.
If you already know about Turmeric, please jump to the relevant section using the Table of Contents below, else please read on.
Table of Contents
- What is turmeric?
- 6 Science-Backed Benefits of Turmeric in Leukemia
- 1. Turmeric kills blood cancer cells and prevents proliferation
- 2. Turmeric inhibits angiogenesis
- 3. Turmeric can regulate immune responses in leukemia
- 4. Turmeric assists in chemotherapy and radiotherapy
- 5. Turmeric has chemopreventive action
- 6. Turmeric protects from toxicity induced by chemotherapy and radiotherapy
- The dosage of Turmeric for Leukemia
- Research Studies
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is the spice obtained from the plant Curcuma longa, which belongs to family Zingiberaceae. The rhizome of this plant is a useful part which is used fresh or in a dried powdered form commonly in cooking.
It is also used in cosmetics, dyeing and traditional medicines. The flavor, colour and medicinal properties of turmeric make it used widely.
The medicinal properties of turmeric are have been studied tremendously by the scientist. The studies have thrown light on a vast range of its properties such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-cancer, immune-modulation etc.
These properties are a virtue of its bioactive compounds such as curcuminoids, particularly curcumin. Turmeric constituents a number of other compounds as well. These include proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins (B&C), minerals (Potassium, Sodium, Iron etc) volatile oils, omega fatty acids, α-linolenic acid etc.
6 Science-Backed Benefits of Turmeric in Leukemia
Turmeric by virtue of its anti-cancer activity can be very beneficial for leukemia patients. Its other properties such as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties can further prove to be useful in other aspects of leukemia treatment and prevention.
1. Turmeric kills blood cancer cells and prevents proliferation
The abnormal blood cells produced by bone marrow results in the development of leukemia. In order to treat this type of cancer, these abnormal cells need to target and kill.
This process is called apoptosis. A number of chemicals or natural substances can induce apoptosis in cancer cells and thus, kill them. This occurs by targeting various molecular pathways in the cells by these substances.
Also, the proliferation of these cells needs to be prevented of avoiding their further invasion in the body.
Turmeric is an anti-cancer agent that has been found to kill cancer cells by inducing apoptosis through its action on numerous molecular pathways. At the same time, it does not kill normal cells.
Turmeric is also known to have an anti-proliferative activity that prevents cancer from spreading.
Curcumin, the bioactive compound of turmeric is found to induce apoptosis and suppress the invasion in the leukemia cells.
It induced apoptosis by inhibiting expressions of certain molecules like NF-kappa B, Bcl-2 (anti-apoptotic or those that prevent cell death) and activating certain pro-apoptotic pathways like caspase-3 and MAPK signaling.
Turmeric is active against all types of leukemia and adopts various different pathways in each to induce apoptosis.
Curcumin induces cell apoptosis in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) by suppressing DNA Methyltransferase-1 (involved in the progression of cancer) and thus prevents the cancer growth.
In case of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), curcumin has been found to inhibit cancer survival pathways such as STAT3, NF-kappa B, and Akt, in combination with green tea polyphenols.
Another compound from turmeric, i.e. β-sesquiphellendrene has been found to possess anti-cancer activities as well. It induces apoptosis and has anti-proliferative action comparable to curcumin in various types of cancer including leukemia.
What does it mean?
It means consumption of turmeric can kill the cancer cells in various types of leukemia. The turmeric bioactive compounds induce cell death and also prevent cell proliferation of the blood cancer cells. This can be very effective in the treatment of the various types of leukemia.
2. Turmeric inhibits angiogenesis
Angiogenesis is defined as the development of new blood vessels. It is an important process in the spread and survival of cancer as it provides the cancer cells with an adequate supply of oxygen and other nutrients.
Initially, it was believed that angiogenesis is a characteristic of solid tumors only, but now the evidence has surfaced for the role of angiogenesis in ‘liquid tumours’ like leukemia.
There have been findings of increased angiogenesis in the bone marrow of both acute and chronic leukemia patients. A role of VEGF factor (a protein that stimulates angiogenesis) is suspected here.
In the case of the early stages of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), VEGF factor level has found to be elevated in bone marrow and lymph nodes.
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is also found to have increased angiogenesis related to an elevated VEGF level.
Inhibition of angiogenesis can be another treatment approach for leukemia. Turmeric can be used here as well.
Curcumin is found to have an anti-angiogenic action. It interferes with the pathways of various factors that mediate angiogenesis.
It is found to inhibit various pro-angiogenic factors like VEGF and bFGF.
It also inhibits the signal transduction pathways which are involved in angiogenesis such as, proteins kinase C and transcription factors NF-kappa B and AP-1.
What does it mean?
It means the use of turmeric can inhibit angiogenesis which is involved in the progression of leukemia. The inhibition of pro-angiogenic factors by curcumin can help in the treatment as well as prevention of leukemia.
3. Turmeric can regulate immune responses in leukemia
Bone marrow is a producer of lymphocytes that make up the immune system.
When bone marrow is adversely affected, the immune system is bound to go south.
In the case of lymphocytic leukemia, the immune dysfunction becomes evident.
It has been seen that chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) suppresses immune system thus making the body prone to infections. It also leads to the failure of anti-cancer immune responses.
This insight into the effect of leukemia on immune system establishes the potential of immune therapy against this disease.
Turmeric has a potential of immune-modulation, i.e. it can modulate the immune responses that can help against many diseases including cancer.
It is known to enhance antibody responses and can modulate the activation of various types of immune cells.
Curcumin has been studied for its ability to modulate the immune system to exert anti-cancer effects. It boosts anti-tumor immunity and thus, prevents development and progression of cancer.
What does it mean?
It means the intake of turmeric can boost the immune system that can enable the body to fight against cancer. Turmeric modulates the activity of the immune cells to overcome the impairment caused by lymphocytic leukemia. This can prevent the development of this disease.
4. Turmeric assists in chemotherapy and radiotherapy
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the majorly used treatment against leukemia. There are certain limitations associated with these therapies that hinder the proper treatment.
One such limitation is the lack of sensitivity of the cancer cells towards these therapies. This lack of sensitivity may be a result of certain factors that influence the environment of cancer cells, such as oxygen levels in the cells.
Agents that can alter the environment of the cancer cells can improve their sensitivity to these treatments viz. chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Curcumin from turmeric is found to be a chemosensitizer and radiosensitizer in case of several types of cancer, including leukemia.
These actions of curcumin are a result of down-regulation of various growth regulatory pathways, genetic factors, anti-apoptotic proteins, and multi-drug resistant proteins.
In cases of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), curcumin has been found to down-regulate NF-kappa B. This sensitizes the cancer cells to the chemotherapeutic drugs such as doxorubicin, methotrexate, vincristine, cytarabidine and many more.
The treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is also known to be improved by turmeric powder. The chemotherapeutic drug imatinib (a preferred drug against CML), was assisted by turmeric to improve its efficiency.
An increased level of nitric oxide is a characteristic reported in leukemia.
Administration of turmeric along with imatinib decreased the nitric oxide levels in the CML patients significantly more than imatinib alone. This highlights the efficiency of turmeric as a chemosensitizer.
Curcumin’s radiosensitizing effects are known to be mediated through inhibition of PI3K/Akt-dependent NF-kappa B pathway (it enhances sensitivity to radiotherapy).
What does it mean?
It means use of turmeric can assist in the chemotherapy and radiotherapy against leukemia. Turmeric sensitizes the cancer cells by altering their environment, to chemotherapeutic drugs and radiation. This improves the effect of these therapies on the cancer cells and help in better treatment.
5. Turmeric has chemopreventive action
Chemoprevention is the phenomena of reduction of risk of developing cancer by using certain natural or synthetic substances. These substances suppress or prevent carcinogenesis (development of cancer).
Turmeric is one of these natural substances that have chemopreventive action. Its bioactive component, curcumin is known to protect against a variety of cancer.
Dietary amounts are known to be effective in cancer chemoprevention. It is found to reduce the risk of cancer significantly.
Turmeric in the diet is helpful in reducing the risk of cancer through various modulations by curcumin. It influences cell cycle, apoptotic signals, anti-apoptotic signals, etc. It also regulates changes in DNA to prevent the development of cancer.
What does it mean?
It means the inclusion of turmeric in regular diet can reduce the risk of development of leukemia. The modulation of various molecular pathways by curcumin destroys the potent cancer cells and thus, protects against cancer.
6. Turmeric protects from toxicity induced by chemotherapy and radiotherapy
The effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment on the healthy cells of the body leads to toxic effects. These toxic effects may be on the heart, nerves, kidneys, lungs, liver or other parts of the body.
The toxicity induced by these therapies in cancer patients gives rise to several life-threatening complications and also affect the normal functioning of the body.
Substances that may reduce these toxicities are, therefore, indispensable and very desirable. Turmeric is again such a substance.
Besides sensitizing the cancer cells to the chemotherapy or radiotherapy, turmeric protects the healthy cells against these therapies at the same time.
The protective effects of curcumin are mediated by enhancing the expression of various antioxidant enzymes (such as glutathione, hemeoxygensae-1).
These enzymes quench the free radicals induced by the therapies in healthy cells. Thus, turmeric protects against toxicity.
Doxorubicin, a common chemotherapeutic drug used to treat leukemia leads to cardiotoxicity, i.e. it impairs heart functioning. Administration of curcumin before doxorubicin treatment has shown protective effects on the heart tissue.
Use of curcumin before methotrexate treatment has shown significant protective effects on the liver. Liver damage was prevented by the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action of curcumin.
This activity of curcumin also protects against methotrexate-induced blood toxicity.
Adriamycin is also employed for leukemia treatment and it is known to damage kidneys. Curcumin attenuates the damage to kidney caused by oxidative stress induced due to adriamycin treatment.
Moreover, turmeric has a radioprotective activity that protects healthy cells from the deleterious effects of radiations.
The radiations induce oxidative stress and damage the bio-molecules of healthy cells. Curcumin attenuates this oxidative stress and protects healthy cells against toxicity induced by radiotherapy.
What does it mean?
It means consumption of turmeric can protect the healthy tissues and organs from the damaging effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory mechanism of curcumin is responsible for this.
The dosage of Turmeric for Leukemia
Turmeric used in the regular diet is of known to benefit in preventing cancer.
The most active constituent of turmeric, i.e. curcumin has a poor absorption in the body. Therefore, it should be taken along with black pepper and/or healthy fats such as coconut oil to improve its absorption by the body. (Read How to improve turmeric’s bioavailability?)
Curcumin is required in high doses for cancer treatment. Therefore, the use of turmeric supplements is suggested. The dose schedule that can be followed by leukemia patients can be referred from the article Turmeric/ Curcumin Dosage for Cancer: A Scientific Plan.
Golden Paste is another viable option for the intake of turmeric. It is a paste prepared from fresh turmeric or its dried powder combined with black pepper and healthy fats.
Turmeric consumption should be initiated with lower doses (1/4-1/2 teaspoon per day for a week) and can be raised gradually over weeks to 2-3 teaspoons per day if no side-effects are observed.
Curcumin should also not be taken with other medicines as it may have interactions with certain medications. A gap of at least 3-4 hours is a must between intakes of the two. (Read Black pepper in GP: Does it cause drug interaction?)
When not using Golden Paste or turmeric supplements, turmeric intake is highly advisable in the regular cooking to prevent and fight leukemia.
Turmeric powder can be sprinkled to soups, rice dishes, smoothies, curries or other such dishes. Also, half-an-inch of fresh turmeric root or its juice form can be taken regularly.
You should definitely consult your doctor before starting turmeric for leukemia.
Dietary use of turmeric is highly advisable in cancer. Turmeric in dietary amounts is considered to be out of danger.
- Avoid in pregnancy and lactation
- Avoid if suffering from gall bladder obstruction
- Avoid if suffering from a bleeding disorder
- Discontinue prior to surgery
Avoid taking turmeric on an empty stomach to avoid acid reflux symptoms. (Does turmeric cause acid reflux?)
If suffering from a bleeding disorder, small doses of turmeric in the diet are safe but it is best to consult a doctor before taking turmeric or turmeric supplements in this case. (Does turmeric cause blood thinning?)
A general precaution is outlined that turmeric may have drug interactions with stomach acid reducing medication, antidepressants, blood sugar reducing drugs etc.
Curcumin found in turmeric is known to interfere with drug metabolism. Hence it is advised not to take curcumin supplements concomitantly with any other medicine.
Turmeric is a wonderful natural product for leukemia patients.
Its anti-cancer activity is remarkable. Turmeric is not only capable of killing the cancer cells of leukemia by numerous mechanisms but also has other assisting roles.
It prevents the invasion of leukemia and boosts the immune system to heighten the cancer-fighting ability of the body.
Turmeric compounds improve the effectiveness of treatment therapies by sensitizing the cancer cell to these therapies. Moreover, these compounds also protect the healthy cells from the deleterious effects of the therapies.
Furthermore, turmeric also reduces the risk of developing leukemia, for that matter any type of cancer.
Even the regular use of turmeric in diet can have a great impact against leukemia. It can be confidently said that the potential of turmeric for treatment and prevention of leukemia is unparalleled.