Turmeric – Selective Killer
Some research has shown the curcumin in turmeric may play a role in preventing cancer growth, killing cancer cells, and alleviating treatment side effects.
One way that curcumin is thought to work is by lowering levels of inflammation in the body.
“Chronic inflammation underlies most chronic diseases, cancer included,” says Lise Alschuler, ND, a professor of clinical medicine and an assistant director for the fellowship in integrative medicine at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson, Arizona. “Along with the lowered inflammation, quality of life improves.”
Studies have suggested that curcumin can inhibit enzymes such as cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), which are important for regulating inflammatory processes in the body. Abnormal levels of COX-2 or iNOS are associated with inflammatory disorders and certain cancers.
Lab studies have shown that curcumin uses various mechanisms to kill cancer cells and reduce the growth of new blood vessels in tumors. Authors of a review published in the AAPS Journal concluded that “its ability to kill tumor cells and not normal cells makes curcumin an attractive candidate for drug development.”
Other research reveals that adding curcumin to a chemotherapy regimen might make the treatment more effective. A study published in the journal PLoS One looked at the effects of curcumin and chemotherapy in a laboratory study on bowel cancer cells. The scientists found that the combined treatment was better than chemo alone.
While much of the research on curcumin and cancer has been done in the lab, there are some promising results in humans. In a study published in Clinical Cancer Research, investigators examined the effects of curcumin in people with pancreatic cancer. The participants received 8 grams (g) of curcumin by mouth daily. Results showed that the compound had “biological activity” in some patients. One individual even experienced a brief, but significant, tumor regression.
Turmeric may also protect healthy cells from damage caused by radiation therapy. In a study published in Radiation Research, scientists observed the effects of curcumin in 30 patients with breast cancer. They found that 6 g of oral curcumin taken daily during radiotherapy reduced the severity of radiation dermatitis (damage to the outer layers of the skin caused by radiation).