Turmeric & Pets

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Does turmeric cure cancer and arthritis in pets?

turmeric and petsIn 2007, when I launched NoCans.com, I knew I wanted to include a comprehensive list of foods not safe for pets. My list quickly became the most visited page on my site.

I purposefully kept the list to those items that I found were unsafe. Listing food items that are safe to eat just seemed a recipe for disaster as it would be crushing to hear about an animal who had problems after eating something that I had said was safe.

In 5 years, there has only been one 'incident' involving an item included on the list. A seemingly innocent email began a week-long foray into the avocado. In the end, avocados remained on the list despite a pet food company launching an Internet-wide campaign proclaiming they were safe for pets to eat.

In the closing days of 2012, after seeing a flurry of interest in my inclusion of the spice turmeric on that list, I thought it may be time to actually take an item off the list.

What's turmeric and why pet owners talking about it.

Turmeric is used heavily in Indian cooking. It gives many of their dishes their yellow coloring. Alzheimer's appears to occur less frequently in some regions of India. Since people from that region have used turmeric as a folk medicine for centuries, someone, somewhere, concluded that turmeric and more particularly its active component curcumin was what was helping these folks stay healthy. (Nowhere did I find a conclusive study that indicated curcumin was in fact preventing Alzheimer's in humans.)

Suddenly, turmeric and curcumin are being touted as cures for cancer, diabetes, arthritis, skin problems and a whole host of other ailments in both humans and our pets. Doing a Google search for "turmeric and pets" I found literally hundreds of websites, blogs and forums with posts proclaiming that turmeric was indeed a successful treatment for cancer and arthritis in pets. What I also found was that almost every one of them just happened to be promoting a particular vendor or product. Seemed like the avocado agenda all over again.

One of the sites proclaimed that turmeric is only 2-6% curcumin by weight. They went on to recommend a particular product they knew was "more expensive but worth it" because it contained 95% curcuminoids.

Anecdotal evidence aside, I wanted to know what the professionals are saying about turmeric and pets.

Curcumin & Humans

Curcumin is an anticoagulant. You should be cautious of adding a curcumin regimen to your treatment plan if you are already on a medication that is also known to slow clotting. WebMD also warns that turmeric is likely unsafe during pregnancy or while breast-feeding. It should not be used if you have gallstones or a bile duct obstruction.

The University of Maryland Medical Center website (Turmeric) also warns that a number of the studies for medical usage of turmeric are using an injectable form of curcumin and that some of the studies are showing conflicting evidence. One study they referenced used an herbal supplement that showed promise but it was unclear if the curcumin alone or if one of the other herbal ingredients or the particular combination used was actually providing the relief. People already taking medication to reduce stomach acid may find that adding turmeric to their regimen increases the production of stomach acid. It also may impact diabetes medications and increase the risk of hypoglycemia.

What does the ASPCA say about turmeric and pets?

First stop...the ASPCA website. They maintain a series of articles on various plants and food items that may or may not be safe to give our pets. Their article on spices including mace, paprika and turmeric did not support the health claims I had seen by others. They stated that turmeric and curcumin are irritants to the skin, gastrointestinal tract and other mucous membranes. They recommended not allowing pets to consume it. (Spices)

Cornell School of Veterinary Medicine

Next stop...the Cornell School of Veterinary Medicine. I couldn't find any mention of the turmeric or curcumin on their website.

The main Cornell University website did have a paper on "Food Fraud: Public Health Threats and the Need for New Analytical Detection Approaches." Nothing in the report mentioned turmeric and pets. However, it did mention that some discount brands of turmeric may include lead chromate. Lead chromate is commonly used to color yellow paint and can be toxic if ingested or inhaled. The article likened including lead chromate in commercially sold turmeric to watered-down olive oil as a way for manufacturers to provide more "product" for a lower cost. (Food Fraud...(a PDF file))

Turmeric & Pet Cancers

One of the blog posts touting the use of turmeric for animal cancer mentioned a study from the Colorado State University Animal Cancer Center. In the Center's Winter 2011 newsletter, they mentioned that they were researching vaccine-associated sarcomas (skin tumors formed at injection sites) which have been difficult to treat in cats. They reported their "exploration" of the anti-cancer properties of curcumin and how it "might inhibit the growth of cancer cells related to feline vaccine-associated sarcomas."

I found a press release on the main Colorado State University site from the same oncologist mentioned in the newsletter. It would seem to contradict many of the claims that turmeric and curcumin are effective against cancer in humans and pets. Dr. Doug Thamm said, "While researchers know that curcumin has anti-cancer properties, it is metabolized through the liver in most animals and humans in a way that renders it ineffective against cancer cells in the body." In other words, curcumin does not fight cancer in humans and dogs because our livers neutralize its cancer-fighting ability.

However, the article went on to say that the livers of cats work differently than human and canine ones.

Quoting from the press release...

"Dogs, humans and other mammals have a liver that is very effective at metabolizing many compounds, but cats don't metabolize certain drugs as well because they have a unique liver," said Dr. Thamm, the veterinary oncologist who is leading the project. "The unique feline liver means that some drugs that are not toxic to dogs or humans may be toxic to cats. In this case, dog and human liver enzymes turn off the beneficial effects of curcumin against cancer, but because feline livers function differently, the benefits may not be completely lost." In other words, while curcumin has anti-cancer properties for human and dog cancers, our own bodies prevent curcumin from being effective.

In 2009, when they announced the study, Dr. Thamm planned on determining how much curcumin is required to inhibit the growth of feline cancer cells as a prelude to clinical trials in cats. In other words, they planned on seeing if feline cancer cell growth was inhibited by curcumin and then see whether or not feline livers also prevented the compound from being effective as a treatment.

Conclusions about turmeric and pets...

Other than the 2011 newsletter, I have found no further discussion by the folks in Colorado with regard to curcumin as a treatment for feline cancers. I found no reliable sources indicating tumeric and curcumin are effective for treating arthritis in dogs and cats. A few individual veterinarians mention using turmeric but again, they mentioned no studies proving its efficacy and many were promoting a particular supplement.

There were several mentions of lab studies where cancer cells in petri dishes were prevented from growing, fruit flies lived longer and other experiments showed promising results but I found it difficult to find information from reliable sources. Furthermore, all I could find were studies outside of both human and pet bodies. Sadly, I also could find no published results from the studies being done by Dr. Thamm.

So, as far as turmeric consumption by pets, it would appear that it all boils down to this...while many pet owners are calling turmeric a miracle cure, veterinary medicine is still researching how and if curcumin can help animals. In the meantime, the ASPCA is warning against allowing pets to ingest the compound because it can cause stomach upset, including diarrhea, and other side effects. Maybe things will change in the future but, for now, turmeric will remain on my list of human foods not safe for animals.


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