What is curcumin? Does it help prevent cancer?

Quick Answer
The active principle of turmeric, a common food additive in Asian cooking, which has been used for many centuries in ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic medical treatments.> Curcumin has been selected, along with other promising diet-derived compounds, for testing as a chemopreventive agent for cancer targets in the NCI Chemoprevention Drug Development Program in the United States
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Cancers treated or prevented: Supplemental treatment for chemical carcinogenesis caused by pesticides, breast cancer, metastatic melanoma, lymphoma

Delivery routes: Oral by capsule

How this substance works: Curcumin is the active component of turmeric, a spice common in various Asian cuisines. Turmeric is a yellow powder obtained from the dried rhizomes of a flowering plant belonging to the ginger family. Curcumin is present in turmeric along with related yellow compounds called curcuminoids. It belongs to a chemical family of compounds known as polyphenols, which are antioxidants that destroy harmful tissue-damaging substances called free radicals.

Curcumin has been reported to possess a wide range of medicinal properties, including the ability to inhibit cancerous tumors in the breast, colon, head, neck, and skin in mice, rats, guinea pigs, and hamsters. From 2001 to 2007, curcumin was investigated for the prevention of colon cancer in a National Cancer Institute (NCI)–sponsored phase I clinical trial at the University of Michigan Cancer Center. A 2005 study by the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center reported that it suppresses the negative effects of Taxol (paclitaxel), a breast cancer drug that can cause breast cancer cells to spread, and a 2011 study by the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) revealed that it inhibits one of the cell-signaling pathways involved in head and neck cancers. Additional clinical trials by the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center have tested curcumin against multiple myeloma (2004–9) and advanced pancreatic cancer (2004–14). Based on experimental findings, it has also been postulated to enhance detoxification of carcinogens such as dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) and dioxins by blocking their access to cells.

Curcumin is able to inhibit cancerous cell growth by binding to a number of different proteins that are involved in cell signaling, including transcription factors, growth factors, cytokines, and kinases. This allows it to both block the cell-signaling pathways that drive cell proliferation and activate the pathways that initiate apoptosis, or preprogrammed cell death. Curcumin's multiple modes of action are what make it such a promising treatment for numerous types of cancer.

Side effects: Ingesting large quantities of curcumin can cause ulcers. When used in conjunction with anticoagulants and thrombolytic agents, curcumin could enhance their activity and increase the risk of bleeding.


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