Turmeric, Curcumin, and Cancer: What’s the Research?

by Columbia Surgery on March 26, 2014

Turmeric Blog3Deborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN
Clinical Nutritionist
The Pancreas Center

Turmeric is a root, appearing similar to ginger, with a very mild bitter and spicy flavor, often found ground in the spices section of your grocery store.  As one of the main spices found in curry, you may recognize turmeric by its bright yellow/orange hue. Due to its mild flavor, many chefs are incorporating turmeric into their dishes solely for its bright color!

One of the components found in turmeric is called curcumin, which is an antioxidant in the polyphenol family that has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anticancer properties.  Used for centuries in Chinese and Indian medicine, turmeric has been used to treat a wide range of ailments including various skin conditions, respiratory disorders, gastrointestinal distress, and infections (parasitic, viral, and bacterial alike).

In addition to its widespread ability to help treat many ailments, there are few side effects for the majority of people. The major drawback in using curcumin has been a low bioavailability, therefore the formulation and delivery of the substance must be carefully considered. The use of nanoparticle technology has allowed for increased bioavailability, resulting in up to 27 times greater absorption in human studies when taken orally. Traditionally, turmeric is used with black pepper in cooking. Piperine, a main component in black pepper, has been shown to increase curcumin bioavailability by 2000%.

Much attention has been paid to curcumin use for cancer prevention and treatment including leukemia, breast, colon, prostate, and pancreatic cancer.  Studies have shown curcumin increases tumor cell death (apoptosis) while stopping tumor cell growth (proliferation). Researchers injected human pancreatic cells into mice to study the effects of liposomal curcumin on tumor growth and discovered the mice given curcumin had a 42% decrease in tumor growth compared to untreated mice.

Researchers studied the effect and tolerance of a nanoparticle formulated type of curcumin (Theracurmin®) given orally to patients with advanced pancreatic or biliary cancer with gemcitabine based chemotherapy.  Patients reported improvements in fatigue, overall function, and appetite. Toxicities were comparable with those expected from standard. Two patients reported increased abdominal pain after receiving Theracurmin® however both patients had dilated colons. Since curcumin can be an intestinal irritant, the authors recommend caution in the use of curcumin in such circumstances. Listed as a potential conflict of interest, two of the study’s authors are involved with Theravalues Corporation, the company that manufactures Theracurmin®.

What does all this mean for you or your loved ones suffering with pancreatic cancer?

Curcumin has been shown to be effective in limiting tumor growth in controlled animal based studies. A small phase 1 human trial showed curcumin is generally well tolerated when given with chemotherapy and may improve certain aspects of the patient’s quality of life.

While it may be too soon to run to your local supplement store and stock up on curcumin in pill form, feel free to add turmeric (remember that yellow spice that curcumin is found in?) to your food. Turmeric compliments salads, casseroles, and omelets well. Don’t forget to sprinkle on some black pepper to make sure you absorb well, and feel free to enjoy this golden spice as part of your diet!

A word of caution

Mega doses of curcumin may worsen certain conditions such as gall bladder problems, reflux, or other gastrointestinal disorders. If you are taking blood thinners, or are having surgery within two weeks, you should avoid supplemental curcumin as it may cause extra bleeding. Always discuss taking a supplement with your health care provider to be sure it will not interfere with your medications or worsen any medical conditions you may have.

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Cheers for Chia: the Ancient Superfood

by Columbia Surgery on February 21, 2014

Deborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN
Clinical Nutritionist
The Pancreas Center

health foodsMany people are familiar with Chia Pets, the clay pots where sprouted chia seeds grow “hair” on animals or figurines. Fewer of us are familiar with the chia seeds used in many foods, drinks, cereal, and baked goods. If you take a look in your grocery store, you may notice more packaged foods and drinks are now incorporating chia seeds, especially in health food stores.

What is chia?  Chia is actually an herb in the mint family, which is grown for its highly nutritious tiny seeds. A staple to the ancient Aztec and Mayan diets, chia seeds are now making their comeback in the 21st century.

Why are chia seeds so nutritious?  These tiny seeds are packed full of nutrition. They are balanced with fat, protein, and carbohydrates (80% of which is in the healthy form of fiber), are rich in minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus, and even contain a good amount of antioxidants!

My number one reason for recommending chia seeds is their high content of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. Many foods we eat today have a high amount of omega 6 fatty acids (refined vegetable oils and grain fed animal products) and not enough omega 3 fatty acids, which are also found in fatty fish, flax seeds, seaweed, fermented soy, and grass fed animal products (butter, eggs, meats, dairy).

A healthy balance of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids is important for overall health. Having too many omega 6 fatty acids and too little omega 3 fatty acids may contribute to excessive inflammation in the body, leading to all sorts of health problems including heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, and even cancer.

Chia seeds contain three times more omega 3 fatty acids than omega 6 fatty acids (60% of the fat is omega 3 and 20% is omega 6), with each tablespoon containing approximately 2000 mg of omega 3 fatty acids, more than any other food!

If you have any underlying inflammatory conditions (such as diabetes, pancreatitis, skin or neurological disorders to name a few), try balancing the omega 3 to omega 6 ratio in your diet by including chia seeds.

How can I incorporate chia seeds into my diet?  Due to their ability to hold water, chia seeds can be used as part of almost any food, even in baked goods! When chia seeds are left to soak, they absorb fluid, creating a gel-like substance around the seed.

If you are an adventurous baker, try replacing eggs with chia seeds by mixing one part chia seeds to 6 parts water (must let sit until gel forms). About 1 tablespoon of this mixture is equivalent to 1 large egg in a recipe.

My favorite way to eat chia seeds is added to oatmeal for breakfast. They are also great to add to a smoothie or granola, top off a salad for a crunch, or even use to make a pudding!

Chocolate Chia PuddingRecipe: Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding

Mix ¼ cup chia seeds with 1 cup liquid (coconut milk is especially tasty) and let it sit covered and refrigerated for several hours or overnight.

Then mix in a spoonful of cocoa powder and honey, and enjoy! You may also want to add berries, nuts, or sliced banana for variation.

To make vanilla chia pudding, just omit the cocoa and add 1 tsp vanilla extract instead.

Do you eat chia seeds? Share your favorite recipes here!

Nutrition counseling is a free service offered to all patients of The Pancreas Center.  Learn more or request an appointment with Deborah Gerszberg at The Pancreas Center’s website.


What You Need to Know About Pancreatic Enzymes

December 20, 2013

TweetDeborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN, Clinical Nutritionist at The Pancreas Center, writes regularly about nutritional issues for patients with pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis, and other pancreatic diseases, which commonly cause problems with eating or maintaining their weight. In this post, she answers frequently asked questions about the benefits and proper use of pancreatic enzymes. What are […]

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Nutrition after the Whipple Procedure: What You Need To Know About Micronutrient Deficiencies

November 27, 2013

TweetDeborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN Clinical Nutritionist, The Pancreas Center One of the most common questions patients ask after having a Whipple procedure is “what vitamins or supplements should I be taking?” The general answer is if you aren’t yet eating well, we recommend that you take a multivitamin to assure you meet all of […]

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Healthy Snacking for Weight Gain

September 18, 2013

TweetDeborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN Clinical Nutritionist, The Pancreas Center While many people in the United States are focused on losing weight to improve their overall health, there is another group of people who are struggling to gain weight. If you are trying to gain weight, or are having difficulty maintaining your weight, try adding […]

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Your Dietitian’s Dish

July 31, 2013

TweetDeborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN Clinical Nutritionist, The Pancreas Center I am always asking my patients to tell me, in great detail, exactly what they eat on a typical day. Recently, I have had several patients inquire about my own eating habits. So I decided that for once, I would turn the tables around and […]

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2013: The International Year of Quinoa

July 3, 2013

TweetDeborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN Clinical Nutritionist, The Pancreas Center What makes this grain-like substance so incredible that the United Nations General Assembly has officially declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa? Well, a lot. From its rich nutritional content to its biodiversity, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) has a lot to offer anyone who is concerned […]

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Organic or Not?

May 30, 2013

TweetDeborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN Clinical Nutritionist, The Pancreas Center To buy organic or not to buy organic? That is the question.  At least, that is the question I will attempt to answer for you in this blog. As the organic food sections in our grocery stores continue to expand, you may find yourself wondering […]

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Help take pain out of pancreatitis with your diet

April 11, 2013

TweetDeborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN Clinical Nutritionist, The Pancreas Center “What can I eat?” This is a popular question asked by those suffering from chronic pancreatitis or who have experienced acute pancreatitis and would like to do everything in their power to prevent another attack. First, let’s make sure everyone understands what pancreatitis is. Pancreatitis […]

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Eat the Beet!

February 4, 2013

TweetDeborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN Clinical Nutritionist, the Pancreas Center Beetroots (more commonly known as beets) are not a common food in everyone’s diet – but they should be!  Beets are a dark red-purple vegetable, but come in other colors too, such as golden yellow. Beets get their deep color from the betanin (a phytonutrient) […]

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