Do you know what MGUS is? I'll bet you don't. That's because only 3.2% of the people in the U.S. have MGUS. It's even higher, as high as 8%, in black Americans. And here's the thing. Many if not most of you who have MGUS don't even know it yet. That's because it often doesn't cause symptoms and is commonly missed on lab tests. But it is still very important because MGUS often progresses on to become Multiple Myeloma, a very serious form of cancer.
So why am I telling you all this? It's because just this past month, a new study has come out that indicates that many people with MGUS can stop it from progressing to Multiple Myeloma simply by taking an herb that is probably right in their kitchens as we speak.
MGUS stands for monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance. It refers to an excessive production of white cells called plasma cells in the bone marrow. One of the main indicators that MGUS is progressing to Multiple Myeloma is an increase in the ratio of proteins in the blood called free light chains. The normal ratio is less than 1.65. As long as the ratio stays in this range, the patient is not moving toward Multiple Myeloma. But when the ratio starts to increase, it means that the chance of it turning into Multiple Myeloma is increasing. So if there was a way to prevent the ratio from increasing, that might also prevent the chance of MGUS progressing into Multiple Myeloma and save countless lives. A study recently found that curcumin could stop the progression.
Researchers looked at 26 patients with MGUS or something called smoldering myeloma. Smoldering myeloma is a case of MGUS that is closer to developing into Multiple Myeloma. Then they divided them into two groups. They gave 13 patients 4 grams of curcumin every day for three months. Curcumin is in the herb turmeric, which is often used in cooking. Then at the three month mark, the researchers changed the pills to placebo pills for another three months. The remaining 13 patients went the other way. They had the placebo at first and then three months later were switched to the real thing. Finally, nine patients from each group received a double dose, 8 grams of curcumin daily for an additional three months. Here's what happened.
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Amazingly enough, all of the patients who took curcumin during the first three months had a 26% reduction in their free light chain ratios during that time. Even more surprisingly, they showed another 9% decrease during the three months that they were on the placebo. The researchers speculated that the effects of curcumin may have lingered during these three months of placebo. So what happened to the ones who got the placebo first?
They saw a 2.4% increase in their light chains ratios while they were on the placebo. When they went on the curcumin, however, the increases stopped. These are great results, but there was one problem. None of the findings were statistically significant. That means that there is a possibility that the results were simply a matter of chance. But that problem went away when the researchers used the 8 gram dose. When that happened, the ratios dropped an impressive 36%. And those results were statistically significant. The researchers also noted that, in the year since the trial was completed, not one of the patients who completed the first six months of the trial experienced any disease progression. That is not likely to be accidental.
Now while this study does not prove that everyone with MGUS will benefit from curcumin, it does look extremely promising. But once again, don't expect to hear about this kind of breakthrough therapy on TV. It's not patentable, and today's oncologists won't touch it. But nonetheless, if you have MGUS and want it to stay that way, it definitely looks like taking curcumin might be just the thing.
I would start with a 4 gram per day dose and monitor the light chains ratio for the next three months. If it improves, try a lower dose and follow the ratio. You might find that you can get by with a lower dose. If the 4 gram dose doesn't work, try taking more. The researchers mixed the curcumin with fatty foods to enhance the absorption. Also, many manufacturers are providing extracts of curcumin that might be more effective than the bulk turmeric. And it could be that lower doses of the extracts will work as well as higher doses of the whole herb. In that case, it doesn't hurt to experiment. Curcumin extracts are very safe even in high doses and are available in most health food stores and online.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Golombick T, Diamond TH, Manoharan A, et al. Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, smoldering multiple myeloma, and curcumin: A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled cross-over 4g study and an open-label 8g extension study. American Journal of hematology American Journal of Hematology, Volume 87, Issue 5, pages 455–460, May 2012
Rishi K. Wadhera, MPhil and S. Vincent Rajkumar, MD. Prevalence of Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance: A Systematic Review. Mayo Clin Proc. 2010 Oct; 85(10): 933–942.
Curcumin may reduce free light chains in patients with MGUS and smoldering Multiple Myeloma by Howard Chang and Maike Haehle. The Myeloma Beacon, March 7, 2012 http://www.myelomabeacon.com/news/.
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