(NaturalHealth365) Turmeric, a kitchen spice that hails from India and Southeast Asia, has long been treasured by natural healers for its ability to fight inflammation, regulate blood sugar and combat infections. But turmeric benefits extend even beyond these traditional uses. In fact, ongoing research suggests that its active ingredient – a plant pigment known as curcumin – could be a valuable weapon in the fight against cancer.
Many studies have supported the anticancer effects of turmeric– including its ability to reduce the number and size of tumors. Now, a newly-published study has revealed a dramatic and encouraging “twist” – turmeric has the potential to target several particularly aggressive and lethal forms of cancer, while leaving noncancerous cells unharmed.
International team of scientists concludes that curcumin inhibits an enzyme involved in carcinogenesis
Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, Peking University and Zhejiang University collaborated on the new study, which was published last month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers used biochemical, mouse cancer and cellular models to show that turmeric can powerfully inhibit a specific enzyme known as DYRK2 (or, dual-specificity tyrosine-regulated kinase 2).
The team used cutting-edge X-ray crystallography to obtain 3D images – in which curcumin could distinctly be seen binding to the enzyme at the atomic level.
This is significant, because binding to and inhibiting DYRK2 impairs the activity of proteasomes – protein complexes involved in the development of cancer.
The team noted that inhibiting proteasome activity in cancer cells interfered with proliferation – leading to the reduction of tumors, slower growth of cancer and an overall lessening of cancer burden.
Curcumin targets the “Achilles heel” of lethal cancers
Some cancers – including triple-negative breast cancer and multiple myeloma – are classified by scientists as “proteasome-addicted,” meaning they are dependent on proteasome complexes.
Impairing the activity of proteasome serves to inhibit tumor development – leading scientists to theorize that this dependency may well be the “Achilles’ heel” of these aggressive, hard-to-treat cancers.
Pharmaceutical proteasome inhibitors have already been developed and approved, but there is a catch: these medications are damaging to noncancerous cells.
In response, resourceful researchers have been focusing on inhibiting proteasome activity indirectly by identifying and manipulating proteasome regulators.
This is where the healing power of turmeric comes into play.
By depleting DYRK2, curcumin suppresses proteasome activity – with very little damage to healthy cells in the area.
Curcumin strengthens the cancer-fighting effects of pharmaceutical proteasome inhibitors – meaning that smaller dosages – and fewer side effects – may be possible.
When used with carfilzomib – an FDA-approved proteasome inhibitor used to treat multiple myeloma – curcumin increased apoptosis (cancer cell death) – while causing minimal harm to healthy cells.
Curcumin uses multiple pathways to target cancer
If the ability to impair the DYRK2 enzyme and inhibit proteasome activity were all curcumin offered against cancer, it would still be a promising area of study for cancer prevention and treatment.
But curcumin has an impressive variety of pathways through which to combat cancer. (In fact, it’s almost as if curcumin sets out to “foil” cancer at every turn!)
Curcumin helps to inhibit angiogenesis, the growth and development of new blood vessels to nourish and support tumors. It also “switches off” genes that promote tumor development, while helping the immune system identify and destroy malignant cells.
In addition, curcumin can also protect cell DNA from potentially cancer-causing mutations due to radiation and environmental toxins.
Curcumin also suppresses the production of MMPs, or matrix metalloproteinases, a group of enzymes that attack the extracellular matrix and facilitate the invasion of cancer cells.
Finally, by reducing the production of adhesion molecules that cling to cell walls, curcumin stops cancer cells from settling in place – effectively “throwing a monkey wrench” into the ability of cancer cells to metastasize.
Additional research supports curcumin’s effectiveness.
In one study, curcumin supplementation caused a 36 percent reduction in the size of lung tumors. In another, it caused a 40 percent decrease in the development of colon tumors. And – in one particularly promising clinical study – curcumin cut the growth rate of prostate-specific androgen (a marker of tumor progression) in half.
How can I take curcumin for cancer prevention?
One caveat: According to the scientists who conducted the latest study, some fine-tuning may need to be done before curcumin can completely reverse cancer in human patients.
Study co-author Sourav Banerjee, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar at UCSD School of Medicine, remarked on curcumin’s “chemical drawbacks,” noting that orally administered curcumin is broken down and eliminated by the human body very quickly. Dr. Banerjee cautions that “it (curcumin) needs to be modified to enter the bloodstream and stay in the body long enough to target the cancer.”
(This is why experts say that simply adding turmeric to food may not provide enough bioavailable curcumin to obtain therapeutic results).
The best option at this time is to seek out a very high-quality, high-potency organic curcumin extract, standardized to contain at least 95 percent curcuminoids.
Note: Do not attempt to treat cancer, or any other serious medical condition, with turmeric or curcumin without the guidance of a qualified doctor. Before supplementing with curcumin, get the go-ahead from your own trusted medical professional.
As scientists continue to discover curcumin’s multiple effects against cancer, this amazing flavonoid seems destined to play a major role in natural cancer therapies and cancer prevention.
Sources for this article include:
Cancer & Heart Disease
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