Patients undergoing cancer treatment often look to augment their health through alternative means. Many integrative medical interventions can make a real difference in cancer prevention, recovery and survival. Supplements are a popular choice, although they can sometimes lead to a buyer-beware situation. The effects of some haven’t been fully studied and the outcome isn’t always beneficial.

Curcumin, a compound from the turmeric root, is a supplement that experts are praising for its safety and numerous long-term benefits. It has been used for centuries as a disease treatment in Ayurveda, India’s traditional medicine and arguably the oldest surviving healing system in the world.

Cheryl Myers, an integrative health nurse, author, and expert on natural medicine, is the head of Scientific Affairs and Education for EuroPharma, Inc. She refers to curcumin as the “anti-cancer herb,” because of its success in stopping cancer formation, replication and spread.

Curcumin increases the activity of certain cancer drugs while protecting normal organs such as liver, kidney, oral mucosa, and heart from chemotherapy and radiation therapy induced toxicity. Because of this, some integrative oncologists are using curcumin in conjunction with these therapies. It has also been proven to reduce systemic inflammation and help with oxidative stress.

“Epigenetic studies have shown that curcumin is the most potent natural compound for waking up sleeping genes by reawakening our body’s own tumor suppressing gene,” Myers says.

“James Duke, PhD, author of The Green Pharmacy, and the man who established the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ethnobotanical and phytochemical database, has said that of the thousands of botanical medicines in the world, if he had cancer and could select only one herb to have the greatest impact, that herb would be curcumin.”

While curcumin has been proven to be helpful for cancer patients, Myers says that anyone who wishes to begin a healthy supplement regimen to increase their health will benefit from its antioxidant and anti-inflammation properties by taking one supplement a day. Curcumin can also help those suffering from arthritis, eczema and inflammatory bowel disease.

All curcumin products are not alike. “When looking, keep absorption in mind,” Myers says. “Because curcumin isn’t absorbed easily, you should look for enhanced formulas with micronized curcumin and turmeric essential oils. Be sure to buy curcumin and not just turmeric. Turmeric is a healthy food, but the natural medicine comes from the curcumin, which only makes up about 2 to 5 percent of turmeric.” Myers suggests that patients undergoing cancer therapy take 500 mg of curcumin 3 times daily.

With all of this in mind, it is important to know that there are two types of chemotherapy, Adriamycin and the cyclophosphamide group, for which curcumin may not be helpful. Further research must be done on these therapies, so it is always best to work with an integrative oncologist when combining supplements with chemotherapy.

Myers says it’s always important to proceed with caution when considering supplements touting cancer cures. “The FDA is vigilant against unsubstantiated claims for cancer cures and those making very bold cancer claims,” she says. When looking for natural therapy, be highly suspicious of products that claim “cure” and secret formulas that do not reveal their ingredients.