Ingredient May Fight Cancer
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - An ingredient
in the curry spice turmeric may help suppress and destroy a blood
cancer, early lab research shows--suggesting yet another health
benefit from this long-heralded substance.
Turmeric is a common ingredient
in Indian food and yellow mustard. Its active ingredient is curcumin,
which gives turmeric its yellow color.
Adding curcumin to human cells
with the blood cancer multiple myeloma, Dr. Bharat B. Aggarwal
of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston
and his colleagues found, stopped the cells from replicating.
And the cells that were left died.
Although the study did not test
the benefits of curcumin in patients, previous research has shown
the substance may fight other types of cancers, Aggarwal told
Studies have also shown that curcumin,
even in large quantities, does not produce any known side effects
in humans, the researcher noted.
Based on this evidence, Aggarwal
recommended that people with cancer should try to eat more curcumin,
"Whichever way you can take it,
as much as possible," he said.
Aggarwal added, however, that further
research is needed to determine how much curcumin people need
to get the most benefits.
Previous laboratory research has
shown that curcumin may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory
properties, as well as treat and prevent cancer.
Studies in the lab and in animals
also suggest that the compound might help heal wounds and fight
Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis.
Patients with multiple myeloma
are in particular need of new treatments, Aggarwal and his colleagues
point out in their report in the journal Blood. Once diagnosed
with this blood cancer, patients typically live between two and
During the current study, the researchers
added curcumin to a sample of human cells with multiple myeloma,
and observed how the substance influenced the progression of the
In an interview, Aggarwal explained
that curcumin appears to block the activity of a "light switch"
called nuclear factor kappa-B (NF-kappaB). When turned on, he
said, NF-kappaB appears to then turn on many genes linked to cancer.
Examining the multiple myeloma
cells before adding the curcumin, the authors found that virtually
all contained activated forms of NF-kappaB.
After adding curcumin, however,
NF-kappaB activity was inhibited, the multiple myeloma cells no
longer replicated and the remaining cells died, Aggarwal said.
Aggarwal explained that it is somewhat
difficult to study the effects of curcumin in a large number of
patients because these experiments cost a lot of money. Funding
for similar research is often provided by a company that stands
to benefit if the tested treatment works; however, in the case
of curcumin, a natural compound, no company can reap the benefits
if turmeric shows itself to be an effective anti-cancer drug,
However, Aggarwal said that he
hopes the new findings and previous research suggesting curcumin's
benefits inspire other researchers to continue investigating its
If curcumin is, in fact, an effective
and safe treatment for cancer, studying it further can only be
a "win-win situation," Aggarwal predicted.
SOURCE: Blood 2003;101:1053-1062.
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