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Curcumin for Cancer Treatment: How Does It Work?

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By Editor Last updated: June 18, 2020

People who live in specific regions of the world have been found to have lower rates of certain types of cancers. This protective effect has been traced to their diet which contains a substance called curcumin.1 What is curcumin and how does it protect against cancer?

What is curcumin?

Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, a rootstock plant that grows in South Asia and other tropical climates. Turmeric has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal herb and spice in India.2 Now, scientists are discovering its anticancer properties because curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent.2

Natural turmeric contains a very small amount of curcumin (only about 3 percent by weight).2 That’s why it is difficult to obtain enough curcumin from foods in which turmeric is used as a spice. Supplements contain a significant amount of curcumin, often in combination with piperine (a substance found in black pepper). Piperine has been found to significantly increase the absorption of curcumin from the gut.2

Can curcumin slow cancer growth?

Curcumin has some unique properties that may help to slow cancer growth. It can induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells. Curcumin also suppresses several cellular signaling pathways and prevents the proliferation (rapid increase in number) of cancer cells.3

Curcumin is effective against many different types of cancers, including breast, lung, prostate, and brain tumors. It has also been found to be active against leukemia, lymphoma, melanoma, gastrointestinal cancers, genitourinary cancers, and neurological cancers.4

What are the benefits of curcumin?

Curcumin has various benefits that can help cancer patients fight their disease. Inflammation plays a major role in many chronic diseases, including cancer. Curcumin has potent anti-inflammatory effects. It is as effective as some anti-inflammatory drugs without the associated side effects.5

Oxidative damage due to free radicals leads to chronic inflammation, which can mediate diseases like cancer.6 Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant that neutralizes cancer-causing free radicals.7 It also boosts the body’s natural antioxidant abilities.8

Curcumin is beneficial for cancer treatment at a molecular level.4 It interferes with multiple cellular signaling pathways that are essential for tumor growth. Curcumin decreases cancer growth by contributing to cancer cell death. It also reduces angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels in tumors). It has been found to prevent the spread of cancer (metastasis).9

In addition to cancer treatment, curcumin has shown promising results in cancer prevention. In one study, patients with pre-cancerous lesions in the large intestine were treated with 4 grams of curcumin for 30 days. The treatment led to a 40 percent reduction in the number of suspicious colon lesions.10

Besides cancer, curcumin has shown beneficial effects in treating and preventing a wide range of medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, brain disease, arthritis, and depression.2 Curcumin is believed to fight many age-related diseases and delay aging.

References:

https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-in-general/treatment/complementary-alternative-therapies/individual-therapies/turmeric
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-turmeric#section1
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6429287/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18462866/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19594223
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990475/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17569207
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jat.1517
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2758121/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21372035

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