Numerous studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals detail Curcumin’s ability to protect against cancer. In addition to its capacity to intervene in the initiation and growth of cancer cells and tumours – and to prevent their subsequent spread throughout the body by metastasis – Curcumin also has been shown to increase cancer cells’ sensitivity to certain drugs commonly used to combat cancer, rendering chemotherapy more effective in some cases.1-20 Much research has focused on Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties, and some new research suggests that Curcumin may protect the heart and circulatory system,21-31 and prevent the onset Alzheimer’s disease.40,41 Still other studies have examined Curcumin’s potential ability to counteract the effects of fungal toxins in the food supply,33 and to protect the eyes from cataracts32 and uveitis,42 an inflammation of a portion of the eye that may result in glaucoma.
As an anticancer agent, Curcumin is promising enough to warrant serious attention from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). In its 2002 annual report, the Chemopreventive Agent Development Research Group, a subset of the NCI’s Division of Cancer Prevention, details its efforts to encourage and support research on Curcumin’s utility in cancer prevention and treatment. Because Curcumin is a non-patentable product (see sidebar), such support is crucial, especially for research involving all-important human trials, as other sources of funding are virtually nonexistent. At least one human trial, focusing on dosing, bioavailability, and pharmacokinetics (how Curcumin is used, metabolized, and eliminated by the body), is under way at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Centre. Other Curcumin studies have been proposed to the NIC and are awaiting approval.
Test-tube and animal-model studies have demonstrated that Curcumin exhibits significant anti-cancer activity. Numerous experiments have shown that Curcumin inhibits the progression of chemically induced colon and skin cancers. In colon cancer, in particular, Curcumin seems to significantly inhibit both the promotional and progression stages of the disease. Various studies have reported that Curcumin reduces the number and size of existing tumors, and decreases the incidence of new tumor formation.
Much discussion lately has focused on the use of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitors – such as the prescription medications Celebrex® and Vioxx® – as potential colon cancer preventive agents. This new approach arose from the observation that people who routinely take anti-inflammatory non-steroidal drugs (NSAIDs) are statistically less likely to develop cancer than those who do not. Unfortunately, NSAIDs are poorly tolerated by some and can even cause bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. Regarding Curcumin’s potential benefits for the prevention and treatment of colon cancer, one research team commented:
“Naturally occurring COX-2 inhibitors such as Curcumin and certain phytosterols have been proven to be effective as chemo preventive agents against colon carcinogenesis with minimal gastrointestinal toxicity.”18
Additionally, other studies using cancer cells grown in the laboratory in vitro have demonstrated Curcumin’s ability to prompt apoptosis, or programmed cell death, among leukaemia, B lymphoma, and other cancerous cells. Curcumin has been used as a topical application to successfully induce apoptosis in skin cancer cells both in vitro and in animal models. Curcumin is under investigation as a preventive agent for increasingly common nonmelanoma skin cancers, and as a potential preventive or treatment agent in breast, prostate, oral, pancreatic, and gastric cancers, among others1-21. One researcher understated the matter, noting, “…Curcumin…should beconsidered for further development as [a] cancer preventive agent.”43
Curcumin also has been shown to enhance the effectiveness of certain anti-cancer drugs, and, amazingly, to potentially improve the effectiveness of anti-cancer radiation treatment by preventing tumor cells from developing radiation resistance.33 Protein kinase C (PKC) has been suggested as a possible mechanism by which tumour cells develop resistance to radiation therapy. Curcumin’s helpful effect may be due to its ability to inhibit radiation-induced PKC activity. Additionally, one study found that Curcumin protected study animals from the tumour-producing effects of deadly gamma radiation44, while another found that it protects against damaging ultraviolet light, which is known to play a role in the development of skin cancer.8
Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson CancerCentre declared: “…Curcumin has enormous potential in the prevention and treatment of cancer.” They noted that Curcumin has been found to be safe for human consumption, even in doses ranging as high as 10 grams per day10. But other researchers have observed that more is not necessarily better. A recently published study out of India found that among rats fed a diet causing high blood sugar, those given low doses of Curcumin did not develop experimentally induced cataracts as often as control subjects. But rats receiving high doses of Curcumin actually developed cataracts somewhat faster, possibly due to increased oxidative stress.32 The difference in dosing was extreme, but these findings underscore the importance of further inquiry into the uses of Curcumin in humans for a variety of diseases and under a variety of conditions.
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