According to an article recently published in
Cancer Research, dietary curcumin may inhibit apoptosis (programmed cell death) in human breast cancer cells treated with chemotherapy.
Curcumin is the most important active component of the spice tumeric. Tumeric (
Curcuma longa) is an East Indian plant whose roots are used as a spice in cooking, as medicine, and as a coloring for its distinctive yellow hue. Laboratory studies of animals and
in vitro suggest that curcumin may have antiinflammatory and anticancer effects. However, clinical research is needed to confirm its safety and effectiveness in treating cancer or preventing its development.
Some research has suggested that curcumin may function by inhibiting certain enzyme pathways and reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the body. Enzymes catalyze reactions in the body and certain pathway of reactions have been linked to cancer development. ROS are substances formed in the human body that some scientists believe are linked to the development of cancer. Scientists have suggested that these inhibitory effects may be responsible for curcumin’s apparent anticancer effects. However, many chemotherapy drugs fight cancer by generating ROS to cause apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina conducted several studies modeling human breast cancer to investigate the effects of curcumin on the cancer-fighting ability of various chemotherapy drugs. In tissue cultures, curcumin inhibited camptothecin-, mechlorethamine(Mustargen®)- and doxorubicin(Adriamycin®)-induced apoptosis of human breast cancer cells, by as much as 70%. These effects were apparent after relatively brief exposure (3 hours) and at dosages equivalent to those given in Phase I chemoprevention trials. In animal studies, curcumin significantly inhibited cyclophosamide-induced cancer regression due to reduced apoptosis.
These findings suggest that dietary curcumin may interfere with chemotherapy’s ability to kill cancer cells through apoptosis. Additional research is needed to determine whether breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy should avoid taking curcumin supplements or even cooking with the spice tumeric. The lack of information on drug-herb interactions necessitates careful supervision when combining the two, particularly with chemotherapy drugs, and highlights the need for more clinical studies.
Reference: Somasundaram S, Edmund NA, Moore DT, et al. Dietary curcumin inhibits chemotherapy-induced apoptosis in models of human breast cancer.
Cancer Research. 2002;62:3868-75.