Can Cancer Get Curry-ed Away?
Sure, it stinks, but it might just save your life. Researchers are spicing up the cancer fight by announcing that curcumin, the odoriferous spice used in tumeric and curry powders, may be a sassy cancer adversary.
What’s more, the spice drives cancer to “commit suicide.”
The news comes from a series of studies published by the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. The researchers say curcumin may be effective for both cancer prevention and treatment.
The most recent study to raise a stink can be found on the journal Cancer’s website. In a laboratory, curcumin stopped melanoma cells from proliferating along two key pathways, causing them to “commit suicide.”
Researchers explain that this is because the spice shuts down nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB), a protein that promotes abnormal inflammatory response that leads many disorders, including cancer-and arthritis. It also shut down IKK, the protein that activates NF-kB, and STAT3, another pathway that allows the spread of tumors.
“Curcumin’s promise is enormous,” said Bharat B. Aggarwal, a professor of cancer medicine in M.D. Anderson’s department of experimental therapeutics.”It appears to inhibit multiple pathways by which cancer grows, and we know it’s nontoxic.”
Last month, this same group of researchers reported that curcumin stopped the spread of breast cancer to the lungs in mice, outperforming the cancer drug Taxol. The best results, though, were a combination of Taxol and curcumin. While that test was on mice, the most recent study involved human cells.
“Curcumin affects virtually every tumor biomarker that we have tried,” says Aggarwal. “It works through a variety of mechanisms related to cancer development. We, and others, previously found that curcumin down regulates EGFR activity that mediates tumor cell proliferation, and VEGF that is involved in angiogenesis.
Besides inhibiting NF-kB, curcumin was also found to suppress STAT3 pathway that is also involved in tumorigenesis. Both these pathways play a central role in cell survival and proliferation.”
Aggarwal says that more research is needed to prove the spice’s efficacy in cancer treatment. However, Aggarwal does recommend curcumin for prevention.
Even better, the researchers claim the amount of spice was unimportant for success.
“The NF-kB machinery is suppressed by both short exposures to high concentrations of curcumin as well as by longer exposure to lower concentrations of curcumin,” the report said.
Curcumin is a member of the ginger family, ground from the root of the Curcuma longa plant. It has been used in India and Asia for thousands of years. Interestingly enough, the incidence of the top four cancers in the US-colon, breast, prostate, and lung-is ten times lower in India, according to Aggarwal.
Curcumin can be found in capsule form at various health food stores. Researchers worked with 96% pure curcumin.
Aggarwal noted that because pharmaceutical companies aren’t keen on developing natural products that can’t be patented, there is less money available for research on the spice. MD Anderson’s research has primarily relied on government funding.