Dietary Tumeric (Curcumin)

Cancer Connect

What are the health benefits of tumeric? What do you think of the health benefits of tumeric?

Dr. Ligibel: There is a lot of interest in the health benefits of specific supplements, but not much evidence that these products have any benefits for cancer survivors. Some preliminary results from animal studies have suggested health benefits of turmeric, but it is too early to know whether either of these supplements will eventually be shown to be beneficial for cancer survivors.

It is important to note that turmeric is a "food" rather than a medication, like most supplements. This means that they are not regulated by the FDA. Companies that produce them can make all kinds of health claims, as long as they include the statement that the claims are not supported by the FDA. This can be confusing for patients, as many of these products are marketed as “cancer-fighting”.

According to an article 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 anti-inflammatory 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.