Brain tumors are referred to as primary or secondary brain tumors. If the tumor originates in the brain, it is a primary brain tumor. A secondary brain tumor develops from cancers in other areas of the body that have metastasized, or spread, to the brain. (vi.214)

There are over 120 different types of malignant and benign brain tumors. Two of the most common malignant brain tumors are: (vi.214)

Gliomas. Although brain tumors are rare in adults, gliomas (e.g., astrocytoma and glioblastoma tumors) are the most common type. They also happen to be most aggressive. Prognosis for adult patients diagnosed with a malignant glioma averages between five and eight months. Conventional treatment includes surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. (vi.215)

Medulloblastomas. Brain tumors (and particularly medulloblastomas) are more common in children. Unfortunately they also are difficult to treat, and have a worse prognosis than other types of cancer—especially if the tumor recurs. Conventional therapies for medulloblastomas typically cause serious side effects, including possibly permanent defects in bone development. (vi.216-217)

Turmeric Compounds Fight Brain Cancer

The Brain

Brain cancer is challenging to treat. However, research indicates the compounds in turmeric may help prevent growth of primary brain tumors. In fact, turmeric's curcumin compounds could also counteract many of the things that make brain tumors difficult to treat or resistant to therapy. These hurdles include: (vi.166)

  • The blood-brain barrier: One of the obstacles to treating brain cancer is the blood-brain barrier (BBB). A layer of cells that shields the brain from potential harmful substances in the blood while supplying nutrients, the BBB can also block out chemotherapy drugs. (vi.216)
  • Cancer stem cells: New research indicates another reason gliomas are so deadly is because some of their cells are more malignant. Cancer stem cells are aggressive, and help resist death from chemotherapy or radiation. (vi.215)
  • Chronic low-level stress conditions: The endoplasmic reticulum stress response (ERSR) helps activate repair mechanisms in cells making damaged proteins. Brain cancer cells are in a state of chronic low-level ERSR. This may make them able to survive damage and death from conventional treatments. (vi.166)
  • Oncogenic transcription factor proteins: NF-κB is involved in promoting many kinds of cancer, including medulloblastoma types of brain tumors. STAT3 is another transcription factor particularly active in some glioblastomas. Both factors trigger oncogenes and unhealthy production of various proteins that promote brain cancer growth. (vi.9217)

Studies suggest curcumin from turmeric may even help improve conventional therapy for the most common types of brain tumors. (vi.9166174)

Causes of Primary Brain Cancer

Studies suggest there may be a link between a number of environmental and dietary factors and an increased risk of brain tumors. These include: (vi.214218-221)

  • Cell phone usage.
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals.
  • Dietary fat and cholesterol (too much of).
  • Consumption of a potentially carcinogenic chemical produced in foods fried at high temperatures (especially food high in carbohydrates, such as potato chips and French fries).
  • Dietary consumption of food containing nitrates (especially through pre-birth and childhood exposure) that can form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds (NOCs).
  • Hair dye.
  • High tension wires.
  • Traumatic brain injury.
  • Pesticides.

However, according to some experts, exposure to ionizing radiation (such as from x-rays) is the only known external risk factor. Internally, defects in a certain gene are thought to cause brain tumor growth. These defects can be acquired or inherited. Tuberous sclerosis and von Hippel-Lindau disease are two hereditary conditions that may also increase the risk of brain tumors. (vi.214218)

Brain Tumor Symptoms

A headache is often the first sign of a brain tumor. However, a headache caused by a brain tumor differs from a typical headache in one or more noticeable ways: (vi.214)

  • Begins during sleep and causes vomiting or confusion.
  • Linked to feelings of weakness, numbness, or double vision.
  • Painful morning headache that disappears within hours.

Tumors located in the brain stem always cause nausea and vomiting. Other signs of a brain tumor may include: (vi.214)

  • Cognitive problems, such as loss of concentration, memory, speech, and reasoning skills.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Fixed gaze.
  • Gradual loss of function in an arm or leg.
  • Loss of or impaired senses (hearing, skin sensation, smell, and/or vision).
  • Personality changes.
  • Seizures.
  • Weakness or paralysis.

Turmeric Activity against Brain Cancer

Turmeric contains many natural phytochemicals with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that research suggests are beneficial against cancer. Most research has been conducted on turmeric's curcumin compounds—the pigment molecules that make turmeric yellow. Curcumin has been successfully tested in lab, animal, and clinical studies with cancer patients. (vi.26181)

Preclinical Evidence of Benefit

Lab and animal research indicates the following beneficial activities of turmeric's curcumin compounds:

Table VI.24: Brain Cancer Studies with Turmeric's Curcumin Compounds

Curcumin compounds in turmeric cross the BBB safely. (vi.216)

Studies suggest this may make curcumin an effective and safe treatment option for brain tumors. (vi.216)


Signaling pathways that promote cancer stem cells. (vi.171174222)

Curcumin and nanoCurc™, a nanoparticle form of the turmeric compound curcumin, specifically inhibits brain cancer stem cells. (vi.215222)

Could improve treatment outcomes in aggressive medulloblastoma and glioblastoma brain tumors. (vi.222)

STAT3 transcription factor proteins, which are associated with aggressive tumors. (vi.956107159)

Cell cycle arrest and death via autophagy and apoptosis(vi.159)

Suppressed brain tumor growth and invasiveness(vi.9)

Increased survival time in animals with transplanted glioblastomas. Selectively targeting STAT3 is especially helpful since normal cells do not depend on STAT3 to function. (vi.9107159)

The amount of curcumin used to increase survival time was the equivalent of 8 g/day for a person averaging 80 kg in weight. This is the amount shown to have antitumor effects in clinical trials involving patients with pancreatic tumors and breast cancer(vi.22159174)

Metalloprotease (MMP) enzymes, including MMP-9 and MT1-MMP, which promote brain cancer stem cells. (vi.56159)

Decreased number of highly invasive and treatment-resistant medulloblastoma brain tumor stem cells. (vi.100)

This could help counteract treatment resistance and aggressive growth of brain tumors. (vi.56100159)


SERCA enzymes and induces ERSR. By doing so, curcumin promotes apoptosis and autophagy types of cell death in brain tumors. (vi.166)

This could help defeat survival mechanisms and reduce resistance to chemotherapy in brain tumor cells. (vi.166)


Oncogenes and epigenetic factors(vi.38174216)

Transcription factor, kinase, growth factor, and growth cycle proteins. (vi.9107159174223)

Suppressed brain cancer cell activity, in the lab and in animals with transplanted brain tumors. Injections of 50 mg/kg per day reduced tumor growth in almost 82% of animals compared to 0% in placebo, with no negative effect on normal brain cells. (vi.174224)

Triggered apoptosis and mitotic catastrophe types of death in medulloblastoma brain tumors. This increased survival time significantly. (vi.216)

Tumor suppressors and proteins that carry out cell death (i.e., p53, p21, and caspase-3). (vi.174223)

Helped trigger apoptosis type of cell death in brain cancer, reducing tumor growth(vi.174)


Curcumin powerfully inhibits NF-κB, a type of transcription factor protein that promotes cancer activity—including resistance to treatment. (vi.159174217)

Studies show inhibiting NF-κB in some lines of glioblastoma brain cancer has little to no effect because very little of it is activated. However, radiation, one of the primary treatments for brain tumors, causes an increase in NF-κB. (vi.159174217225)

Blocking NF-κB increases sensitivity to and effectiveness of radiation treatment. The effect with curcumin was seen in both medulloblastomas and glioblastomas. (vi.174217225)

Toxic effects of cisplatin chemotherapy. (vi.174217)

May help treat medulloblastoma brain tumors. (vi.174217)

Proteins that suppress cell death and promote cancer cell survival(vi.174)

Increased effectiveness of radiation and the following conventional chemotherapy drugs in brain tumors: (vi.215224)

  • Camptothecin
  • Cisplatin
  • Doxorubicin
  • Etoposide

The protein factors that turmeric's curcumin compounds affect to reduce brain tumor growth and increase treatment effectiveness include: (vi.95667107130159166174216-217223-224)

Figure VI.13: How Turmeric's Curcumin Compounds Stop Brain Cancer Cells

Figure VI.13: How Turmeric's Curcumin Compounds Stop Brain Cancer Cells

Clinical Evidence of Benefit

Results of an exciting new clinical study suggest curcumin compounds from turmeric could help keep brain tumors at bay. The clinical trial involved 13 patients with glioblastoma. Prior to surgery to remove the tumor, all patients took 1 gram of curcuminoids mixed with pear juice three times a day for 4 days. (vi.486)

The curcumin used was in a liquid formula designed to maximize bioavailability. Blood tests showed that curcumin stayed in patient plasma and was found in the removed tumor tissue. In fact, curcumin in the tumor tissue was at levels known to be toxic to glioblastoma cells. Other scans detected increases in phosphate in the tumor after treatment, suggesting curcumin was affecting the tumor cells' mitochondria. (vi.486)

Although 3 patients dropped out of the study due to nausea, the side effects of curcumin were far less severe than found with chemotherapy. The researchers also indicated that taking the curcumin formula as a capsule, rather than a drink, might reduce nausea caused by the bitter taste. (vi.486)

Beating Immortal Brain Tumor Cells

Turmeric compounds can also help defeat immortal brain tumor cells. Normally the ends of a cell's DNA strands (called telomeres) shorten with each replication. Once they reach a certain point the cell naturally dies. (vi.223226)

Cancer cells are immortal because even though their telomeres are already at a shorter length, they stabilize and don't die. Instead, cancer cells produce telomerase, an enzyme that add sequences to the end of the DNA strand so they can continuously replicate and grow. Turmeric's curcumin compounds inhibit telomerase and trigger brain tumor cell death. (vi.223226)

Other Turmeric Compounds That May Help Block Brain Cancer

Turmeric contains phytochemical compounds and nutrients in addition to curcumin that research suggests can have beneficial effects against brain cancer. These include:

Table V.25: Turmeric's Phytochemical and Nutrient Effects in Brain Cancer

FISETIN (vi.79)

PKC in brain cells, a kinase type of enzyme that promotes tumor growth and invasiveness(vi.131227)


PKC cancer-promoting enzymes in brain cells. Compounds that reduce PKC have been shown to inhibit brain cancer growth. (vi.131227)

Growth of gliosarcoma cells. (vi.131)


Tumor suppressors and caspase enzymes to induce apoptosis type of death in brain cancer cells. (vi.228)

Growth of medulloblastoma brain tumor cells. (vi.228)

Survival time in mice injected with brain tumor cells. (vi.228)

Extracts from turmeric leaves may also help limit exposure to potentially carcinogenic compounds in fried foods. According to recent experiments, adding as little as 0.2% of the extract can significantly slow down the deterioration of cooking oil—without noticeably affecting food quality. As oil deteriorates it becomes oxidized and forms dangerous acrylamide toxins—especially when frying starchy foods such as French fries. Acrylamide has been linked to the formation of brain tumors in animal studies. (vi.220229)

Control switches for phases of the cell growth cycle. (vi.106)
Proteins that promote cell proliferation. (vi.4681)
Enzymes that enhance, stimulate, or suppress other proteins. (iii.118)
Enzymes that enhance, stimulate, or suppress other proteins. (iii.118)
First responders that trigger gene activity. (vi.39)
First responders that trigger gene activity. (vi.39)
First responders that trigger gene activity. (vi.39)
First responders that trigger gene activity. (vi.39)
Also referred to as cancer initiating cells or tumor propagating cells. (vi.215)
75-80% of medulloblastomas are diagnosed in children. (vi.217)
Such as aromatic hydrocarbons or vinyl chlorides. (vi.218)
Acrylamide. (vi.220)
Advances in food manufacturing of processed and cured foods (e.g., pickled vegetables, cured fish, processed meat, and malt for beer and whiskey) have reduced levels of NOCs. (vi.219-220)
MMAC1 (mutated multiple advanced cancers) gene. (vi.214)
Specifically, Wnt/β-catenin, Notch, and Hedgehog. (vi.171174222)
A mix of curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bis-demethoxycurcumin. (vi.486)

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