Mar 13, 2003
By Alison McCook
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 Reuters Health.
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, if possible.
"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 three years.
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 cancer.
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, he said.
However, Aggarwal said that he hopes the new findings and previous research sugesting curcumin's benefits inspire other researchers to continue investigating its properties.
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.
Copyright © 2003 Reuters Limited