By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Curcumin is a component of the Indian spice turmeric, a perennial herb that is widely cultivated in South and South East Asia. Curcumin is one of three curcuminoids that give turmeric its yellow color and is used as a food colorant and additive.
Over the last few decades, several studies have explored the medicinal properties of curcumin. Some of the health benefits that have been associated with curcumin include:
Studies have shown curcumin to be a potent anti-inflammatory agent that can reduce inflammation and may even play a role in cancer treatment.
Some of the anti-cancer mechanisms exhibited by this compound include:
- Suppression of cellular transformation – Cancers arise when healthy cells transform into cancer cells, which can them multiply and spread. Curcumin has been shown to reduce this transformation process.
- Prevention of cancer cell proliferation – Cancer cells multiply rapidly and also avoid apoptosis, a mechanism of programmed cell death that is supposed to kill them. Curcumin prevents this proliferation by interrupting the cell cycle and inducing programmed cell death.
- Suppression of carcinogenic effects – The body is exposed to several toxins and carcinogens that raise the risk of cellular transformation and cancer. Curcumin can inhibit the activation of carcinogenic factors by suppressing specific cytochrome P450 isozymes. It also activates carcinogen detoxifying enzymes that protect the body from cancer-causing toxins.
- Suppression of metastasis or spread of the cancer cells.
- These anticancer effects are brought about by regulation of transcription factors, inflammatory cytokines, growth factors, protein kinases and other enzymes.
Several cancers have been studied that may be treated effectively with curcumin. These include blood cancers, skin cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancers, cancers of the mouth and oral cavity and intestinal cancers.
Other diseases and disorders
Studies have also shown that several other diseases and disorders may be treated successfully with curcumin. Examples of these conditions include:
- Liver and biliary diseases
- Wounds and ulcers caused by injuries and diabetes
- Arthritis and rheumatism
- Sinusitis, coughs and colds
- Heart disease and high blood cholesterol
- Alzheimer’s disease, stress, depression and anxiety
- Cervical cancer
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Feb 25, 2014