Diet and Nutrition

Curcumin and Cancer

January 29, 2018   /
Nutrition411 Staff

What is curcumin?
Curcumin is an active ingredient found in the spice turmeric. In India and other parts of Asia, curcumin is used to treat many health conditions. Curcumin is used in Asian medicine and is believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and perhaps even anti-cancer properties. Some research has suggested that it may help to prevent or treat cancer. Clinical trials are also researching its possible uses as a cancer treatment and as a remedy for side effects of cancer treatment. 

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What has research shown regarding curcumin and cancer?
Some laboratory and animal research has suggested that curcumin may prevent cancer, slow the spread of cancer, make chemotherapy more effective, and protect the body from damage incurred through radiation treatment. Curcumin induces apoptosis in cultured cancer cells by various means. In animals, oral curcumin supplementation is found to inhibit the development of chemically induced oral, stomach, liver, and colon cancers. It has not consistently inhibited the development of breast tumors in animals. 

Most clinical trials indicate that orally administered curcumin is not very bioavailable systemically and that the metabolites of curcumin (not the curcumin itself) are detected in plasma or serum after ingestion. These metabolites may not have the same biological activity. In one study, they did not display as great an anti-inflammatory potential as the curcumin itself when administered into cultured human colon cells. 

However, some evidence shows that curcumin does accumulate in gastrointestinal tissues. Phase I clinical trials in colorectal cancer patients suggest that biologically active levels of curcumin are achievable in the gastrointestinal tract via oral supplementation. This finding supports the need for further clinical evaluation among people at risk for gastrointestinal cancers to see if it helps to inhibit oxidative DNA damage. 

Little evidence is available to prove that high intake of either curcumin or turmeric is associated with decreased cancer risk in humans. Clinical trials are ongoing in people with precancerous conditions. Phase II clinical trials of curcumin in colorectal cancer patients are under way. A phase II clinical trial in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer yielded evidence of some anticancer activity in 2 out of 21 patients. Future clinical trials, may give curcumin intravenously, rather than orally. 

Curcumin has been examined as an adjuvant treatment for head and neck cancer. In a review of 30 in vivo and in vitro, researchers determined that curcumin induces cytotoxicity, apoptosis (via intrinsic pathway), and cell cycle arrest. Its use was also found to reduce tumor size in animal studies. Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center found that a compound derived from curcumin, FLLL32, may help tumor cells overcome resistance to cancer treatments. This finding may allow for lower and less toxic doses of chemotherapy. In patients undergoing radiation treatment for head and neck cancer, curcumin reduced the incidence of mucosal inflammation, a common side-effect of radiation treatment.

Researchers in a study published in Journal of Ovarian Research also found that pretreatment with curcumin may make ovarian cancer cells (in vitro) more vulnerable to cisplatin chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The curcumin was delivered via nanoparticles, which enhanced the sensitizing effect.