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Turmeric: Super-Duper Cancer Fighter?


Turmeric has a peppery, warm and bitter flavor and a mild fragrance slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger, and while it is best known as one of the ingredients used to make curry, it also gives ballpark mustard its bright yellow color.

Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant and has a tough brown skin and a deep orange flesh. Turmeric has long been used as a powerful anti-inflammatory in both the Chinese and Indian systems of medicine. Turmeric was traditionally called “Indian saffron” because of its deep yellow-orange color and has been used throughout history as a condiment, healing remedy and textile dye.


Curcumin is a polyphenol derived from the rhizome of the plant curcuma longa, a member of the ginger (Zingiberaceae) family. Also known as turmeric, Indian yellow root or Indian saffron, is cultivated throughout Asia and used extensively as a spice. Curcumin also has a long history of use as a botanical medicine in both traditional Chinese and Indian (Ayurvedic) medicine to treat a wide variety of conditions. In these traditions, it is usually prescribed along with piperine (black pepper) to improve absorption from the GI tract.


The weight of the experimental data suggests that curcumin favorably affects several key processes in carcinogenesis including promotion of apoptosis and inhibition of inflammation, angiogenesis, cell motility and metastasis. Trials have begun at MD Anderson to evaluate efficacy of curcumin in the treatment of many different types of cancer. Curcumin has been shown to reduce colon polyps in human trials.

There is an impressive amount of peer-reviewed literature on curcumin, including more than 600 publications on PubMed describing curcumin’s effect on carcinogenesis.

Pre-clinical studies have shown that Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory and that it interferes with carcinogenesis via various mechanisms, including inhibition of pro-inflammatory cytokines and inhibition of specific genes involved in inflammation and leukocyte recruitment. Other effects described in the literature include promotion of apoptosis, interference angiogenesis, reduction in cancer cell motility and possibly synergistic effects with some chemotherapeutic agents and radiotherapy. Effects have been shown in almost every type of cell line.

There are currently limited data on the effects of curcumin in combination with conventional chemotherapy and radiotherapy, however initial reports suggest that curcumin may sensitize cancer cells to cisplatin, may reduce resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapy, and may act synergistically to radiation therapy.

Is curcumin a natural cancer treatment?
“Not a SINGLE cancer has been found that is not affected by curcumin”  (MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas)
Curcumin has many serious fans in the fight to beat cancer – UCLA, the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Emory School of Medicine and Tufts to name but four important American Cancer Centers. Why? It is a powerful antioxidant that is also anti-viral and anti-bacterial; plus it seems to have great potential to fight cancer, especially colorectal cancer. All people wishing to build an anti-cancer programme should think seriously about including curcumin within it.The anti-cancer action of curcumin (turmeric):
* Importantly, the spice can stop the action of the enzyme COX-2 known to produce negative, inflammation causing localised enzymes (eicosanoids). Such inflammation is a known precursor to cancer.
* It has also been shown to inhibit vascular epithelial growth factors. Every tumour needs a blood supply – the growth factors build one, but curcumin seems to stop them.
* It has been shown to ´re-awaken´ a key tumour suppressor gene.
* It has been shown to inhibit metastases.
* It has been shown to kill cancer cells (B lymphoma cells).
* It prevents regrowth of cancer stem cells which lie at the heart of many tumours
More research is being reported every month!For example, in the journal ´Genes and Nutrition´ (2011, 6(2) 93-108) the whole issue of ´Epigenetics´ was exposed. It used to be thought that your genes controlled all and a problem in a gene meant you were in someway ´doomed´. This theory has been disproven and replaced by one that shows genes are just your blueprint; these blueprints are controlled, activated or suppressed by the localised environment. So hormones can affect their action, as can natural compounds in food. And curcumin seems to affect gene expression significantly. Such ´signalling pathways´ have been shown to be affected by curcumin.

An example of this ´signalling pathway´ modification came in research from the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany in 2012 which showed that curcumin can inhibit the formation of metastases in both prostate and breast cancer.  Both cancers spread throughout the body through the release of chemical messengers, pro-inflammatory cytokines CXCL1 and CXCL2, but curcumin alters the expression of these two damaging proteins.

Next, Cheryl Myers (head of Scientific Affairs and Education for EuroPharma Inc.) refers to curcumin as ´the anti-cancer herb´ because of its success in stopping cancer formation, replication and spread. Research also shows that curcumin increases the activity of certain anti-cancer drugs whilst protecting healthy cells and organs. It has been proven to reduce systemic inflammation and oxidative stress.

And researchers from the Dept. of Natural Science at Middlesex University have shown that curcumin and chokeberry can work together to induce cancer cell death (apoptosis) and stop the spread of malignant cancer cells. Their report (in Oncology Reports) was for brain tumours.

Dr Young S. Kim leading a team at the National Cancer Institute in America showed that curcumin was one of the natural compounds that could prevent cancer stem cells from re-growing and re-forming the cancer tumour. Her conclusion even suggested patients could supplement!

The University of Missouri has shown curcumin can counter the dangerous effects of HRT and its link to breast cancer cause.  “The results of the study show that women could potentially take curcumin to protect themselves from developing progestin-accelerated tumors,” said the lead researcher. Synthetic progestin increases VEGF a protein that helps form blood supplies to developing tumours. Curcumin inhibits VEGF and thus reduces the potential of breast cancer to grow.

The biggest fans seem to reside at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. From Cancer Watch April 2011 comes this note:

Professor Bharat Aggarwal Ph. D. in MD Andersons Department of Therapeutics has conducted a number of studies, for example showing that in pancreatic cancer patients having no chemotherapy, it reduced tumour size. He believes it is effective against many types of cancer because it suppresses angiogenesis (the growth of blood vessels essential to a tumor).

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