Turmeric for Chemotherapy Induced Toxicity

Cancer is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. This lethal condition has only two types of treatments which are most commonly given to the people who have this disease. The patients are either given radiation therapy or chemotherapy. 

Chemotherapy is the process of using chemical agents to inhibit the growth and kill the cancerous cells. These chemical agents cannot differentiate between cancerous cell and normal cells since these are chemicals with no specificity. These drugs are chemically strong and have various prominent side-effects like temporary hair-loss, dry mouth, mouth sores and nausea. 

What is Chemotherapy Induced Toxicity

Each drug has a different mode of action which it uses to kill the cells. A system was proposed by Suter and Ewer which classify chemotherapeutic drugs according to the damage they cause. Type I drugs are the ones which cause irreversible damage while Type II drugs are the ones that cause reversible damage . In order for all the cancerous cells to be eliminated, these chemotherapeutic drugs are given in the maximum dose. The adverse side-effects of these drugs tend to harm other normal organs and tissue of the body resulting in neurotoxicity (brain toxicity) and kidney toxicity. The chemotherapy agents induce the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) which are harmful for the cells

Another complication associated with chemotherapy is oral complications. It results in damage of the oral tissues (stoma toxicity) which include changes in saliva, infection, bleeding, taste alternation and mucositis (damage of the alimentary tract). The late toxicity includes mucosal atrophy and xerostomia (dry mouth) . 

One such drug is Cisplatin (cis-diamminedichloroplatinum II) which is recommended for treatment of lung cancer, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, esophagus cancer and breast cancer. This drug has an anti-tumor action and hinders nucleic acid synthesis .  It also degrades enzymes which play a significant role in protecting tissues from oxidative damage. Other drawbacks include lipid peroxidation and disruption of redox balance. Another example of chemotherapeutic drug with adverse side-effects is Doxorubicin (Adriamycin). This drug is used for treating leukemia, soft tissue sarcoma, thyroid cancer, breast cancer and other. The Turmeric for Chemotherapy Induced Toxicitydrug mostly results in cardio toxicity which includes loss of myofibrils and swelling of sarcoplasmic reticulum. This drug binds to iron and forms a complex which increases the radical reactions which lead to formation of oxygen free radicals. These radicals are extremely harmful for the tissues .

Turmeric for Chemotherapy Induced Toxicity

Diferuloyl methane or Curcumin is a pigment which gives turmeric its yellow color. Turmeric, Curcuma longa, is a famous herb which is commonly used in the Asian cuisine. This perennial spice is a member of the ginger family and has been part of the Indian Ayurveda for thousands of years. This spice is known to have numerous medicinal properties like treating inflammation, skin and hair problems, biliary disorders and treatment of cancer. 

Curcumin and its mode of action

This phytochemical has the ability to stop lipid peroxidation and hinder in the formation free radicals. Moreover, it scavenges the free radicals which are already present in the body. Its anti-inflammation property is due to its ability to inhibit the enzymes lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase which activate the NF- kB molecule causes inflammation. 

In a study carried out by Yao et al. on the intestinal dysfunction caused by chemotherapeutic drug 5-FU (5-fluorouracil), they found that curcumin was able to reverse the destruction of the intestinal mucosal structure caused by this drug. Since the chemotherapy had injured the intestinal epithelium during its course of action, the mechanical barrier which prevents the infection of the intestinal wall from microorganisms has been destructed. Curcumin has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, thus, is able to protect the intestinal wall from further infection. The chemotherapeutic drugs injure the intestinal epithelium and lead to hindrance in the renewal of cells, villi atrophy, the absorbing surface is lost and mucosa permeability of the cell tight unction is increased. Curcumin, on consumption, increased the mucosal permeability of the intestines and decreased the level of endotoxins in the serum .

Another study carried out by Shaikh et al. showed that curcumin was able to provide cytoprotection against the harmful side-effects of the chemotherapeutic drug Cisplatin. Curcumin was able to prevent the cell death of the normal cells. The antioxidants in the turmeric, Curcumin, were able to act as a free radical scavenger and remove the ROS radicals. The study showed that curcumin was able to provide protection against the Cisplatin-associated testicular toxicity .

Curcumin has also been identified as a potential candidate for chemo sensitizing of the chemotherapeutic drugs. The cancerous cells which have been treated with these drugs tend to become resistant over a period of time and the drugs are unable to affect these cells and the nearby normal cells tend to be the ones affected. In a study by Yallapu et al., the cells pre-treated with curcumin were able to undergo apopotosis (cell death by suicide) when treated with cisplatin . Moreover, some of these chemotherapeutic drugs are unable to cross the blood-brain barrier and are not able to reach the targeted cells. However, when combined with curcumin, which can cross the blood-brain barrier, these drugs are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and kill the cancerous cells.


The turmeric spice is consumed in the form of powdered form in the Indian curries. however, there are various ways in which it can be consumed. But the recommended dosage varies according to the form it is used in. There is no specific dosage for children as there are no studies regarding turmeric supplements in children. However, the dosage has been specified for adults and turmeric roots can be taken 1-3g per day in the dried powdered form. It can also be consumed in the form of fluid extract, taking 30-90 drops per day. The cut root can be taken between 1.5 to 3 g per day. Another form in which the spice can be consumed is in the form of tincture. About 15-30 drops should be taken regularly 4 times a day. The standardized powder containing curcumin should be taken approximately 400-600mg, preferably 3 times a day.  

Curcumin is known to have a hydrophobic nature. This particular feature of the compound makes the curcumin insoluble in water. In other words, that curcumin has very low bioavailability, which means that on ingestion it is not easily absorbed in the elementary canal and into the blood vessels. However, the bioavailability can be increased by using fats like olive oil, coconut oil, etc. along with the spice to increase the rate of absorption. Other includes use of piperine or black pepper in combination with curcumin .

Precautions while taking turmeric

Turmeric has been used in food for a long time and it is considered safe for consumption in this form. However, various herbs on interaction with other herbs, medications and supplements can cause unfavorable side-effects. Thus, it is always advisable to consume herbs with precaution and under the supervision of dependable health care provider. Under the recommended dosage, turmeric spice is safe for consumption. However, if taken in high amounts regularly, it can cause the following:

  • Stomach upset and ulcers in the stomach in extreme cases as turmeric is acidic in nature. 
  • Problem to people, who are suffering from gallstones, thus should be taken under the guidance of a doctor.
  • Turmeric acts like a blood thinner so taking it with blood thinning medicines might increase the effect of these drugs. 
  • drugs (Ranitidine, Famotidine, etc. ) which reduce the acid in the stomach may not be give the desired results as turmeric can interfere with these medicines resulting in production of more stomach acid. 
  • Turmeric also has the ability to lower the blood sugar level, thus if combined with diabetes medications, it can lead to hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. 
  • It is not advised for pregnant or breastfeeding women to take turmeric supplements .

In the end..

Although chemotherapy is a must for the treatment of various types of cancer, its- side-effects are extreme and can be deleterious for the normal tissues and cells. Thus, it calls for an urgent need to eliminate these side-effects using a natural product. Turmeric, containing curcumin, has wide range of application including elimination of chemotherapeutic induced toxicity. The damages caused by these drugs can be reversed to an extent by consuming turmeric which has the antioxidants which reduces the endotoxins from the cells. Not only does the turmeric provide chemo- protection to the body from these chemicals, but curcumin itself has come up as a potential candidate for treatment of various types of cancers.  


  1. I am undergoing ABVD chemothreapy.Is it safe to consume turmeric powder during my treatment for hodgkin’s disease?

    1. Hi. Turmeric and curcumin have synergistic effect with avastin and FOLFOX. Based on research, yes it is safe to take turmeric/curcumin with these meds but it is best to discuss this with a doctor prior. If taking curcumin supplements avoid taking it at the same tame as other meds, maintain a 3-4 hour gap.

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