|In cancer fight, a spice brings hope to the table.
Houston Chronicle (Houston, Texas) (via Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News)
7/11/2005; Ackerman, Todd
Byline: Todd Ackerman
Jul. 11--The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the epitome of
the conventional cancer establishment, is reporting promising test results
on an unconventional weapon: a common spice used in Indian cooking.
In a host of studies, M.D. Anderson researchers are showing that curcumin,
the pungent yellow spice in both turmeric and curry powders, has potent
anti-cancer properties. They say it may prove effective for both prevention
"Curcumin's promise is enormous," said Bharat B. Aggarwal, a professor of
cancer medicine in M.D. Anderson's department of experimental therapeutics.
"It appears to inhibit multiple pathways by which cancer grows, and we know
Aggarwal added that "in a day when Vioxx and Bextra are off the table,
curcumin may be one of the best new hopes on the table" -- a reference to
popular painkillers (Cox-2 inhibitors) taken off the market after reports
they increased the risk of heart disease. Cox-2 inhibitors were considered
potential cancer prevention agents because they'd been shown to inhibit
The latest study on curcumin is available today on the journal Cancer's Web
In it, M.D. Anderson researchers demonstrate in the laboratory how curcumin
stops melanoma cells from proliferating along two key pathways and induces
them to essentially commit suicide. The cells were taken from patients.
A month ago, the same researchers reported that in mice, curcumin helped
stop the spread of breast cancer to the lungs. It outperformed the cancer
drug Taxol in the study, though the best results came with a combination of
curcumin and Taxol.
The results of those studies have led to ongoing Phase I human trials at
M.D. Anderson testing curcumin's ability to stop the growth of pancreatic
cancer and multiple myeloma.
Still to come are a human trial for breast cancer and an animal trial for
Elsewhere, researchers are studying curcumin with lung, colon, head and
neck, oral and prostate cancers.
Aggarwal said the thing distinguishing curcumin from other natural products
touted for their medicinal properties is the science behind it.
Herbs such as garlic, saw palmetto and gingko may receive more ink, but
there have been about 2,000 studies on curcumin, says Aggarwal, easily more
than any other natural product.
It is rich in antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic
Most intriguing, the rate of colon, breast, prostate and lung cancer is 10
times lower in India than in the United States.
In the melanoma study, the M.D. Anderson team found curcumin shut down
nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB), a powerful protein known to promote an
abnormal inflammatory response that leads to a variety of disorders,
including arthritis and cancer; the protein known as IKK that switches NF-kB
"on;" and STAT3, another pathway involved in the spread of tumors.
Aggarwal noted that the greatest obstacle to further study of curcumin is
financial. No pharmaceutical company is likely to develop a natural product
that can't be patented so the only sources of funding are government
Curcumin is available in capsule form at health food stores, though the
purity of some brands may be in question because herbs aren't regulated.
Aggarwal's team worked with a 96 percent pure product.
"Curcumin's efficacy for treating cancer is still to be proven," Aggarwal
said. "But I would recommend it for prevention right now, based on animal
studies. People have been eating it for thousands of years so we know it's
IS CURCUMIN THE SPICE OF LIFE?
--Ground from the root of the Curcuma longa plant, curcumin is a member of
the ginger family.
--It has long had multiple uses in India and other Asian nations: food
preservative, folk medicine, coloring agent, body cleanser and food flavorer
(2 to 5 percent of turmeric is curcumin, for instance).