10 Proven Benefits of Curcumin in Cancer Treatment, Dosage, Precautions

Cancer is the term used to define a group of disorders characterized by an anproliferative growth of cells. The cells divide rapidly and spread to different tissues within the body. [1]

Tumor development may initiate within any of the trillions of cells in the human body. Cell division generally takes place in a highly systematic manner.

Cancer occurs when there is a disturbance in this system. The cell functions are distorted, causing new cells to be formed before the death of old ones. This condition can be highly damaging to organs and tissues based on its extent.[2]

Tumors exist in either benign or malignant form. Benign forms have restricted growth and do not spread to surrounding tissues and organs.

Malignant tumours are more dangerous as they use blood and the lymphatic system to spread to other organs. Benign tumors in the brain may be fatal but they do not grow back when removed from other organs. On the other hand, malignant tumors have the ability to grow back even when removed from the body. [3]

The occurrence of cancer is highly dependent on an individual’s genetic make-up. If someone is predisposed to cancer, exposure to environmental carcinogens such as cigarette smoke, UV radiation etc., compromises the genetic defences put up by their body.

Main cancer controlling genes are proto-oncogenes, tumour suppressor genes and DNA repair genes. Alterations in these genes trigger a series of genetic changes known as ‘drivers of cancer’.

Cancers occur in several forms depending on the organs they affect. Some common types of cancers include: Carcinomas (epithelial cells), Sarcomas (bones and soft tissues), Leukaemia (blood and bone marrow), Lymphomas (originating at the B and T cells), Myelomas (plasma cells), Melanomas (skin cancer) and brain and spinal cord tumours. Other types include tumours forming in the germ cells and those obstructing hormones. [4]

If you already know about Turmeric, please jump to the relevant section using the Table of Contents below, else please read on.

What are turmeric and curcumin?

Curcumin is a bright yellow compound which is the main curcuminoid of turmeric, a herb and popular South Asian spice. Its excellent nutrient profile has caught the interests of scientists who have been conducting tests in it’s used for the treatment of several diseases over the past half-century.

10 Benefits of Curcumin in Cancer Treatment

Curcumin can benefit cancer patients in several ways. Curcumin is a natural anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory agent and can help in cancer in several ways such as inhibiting tumor growth, preventing metastasis, reducing side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Curcumin has Multi-targeting action in cancer and induces apoptosis or cell death in cancerous cells.

10 Proven Benefits of Curcumin in Cancer Treatment

These benefits are discussed in detail below –

1. Curcumin is a natural anti-inflammatory agent

For a long time, medical professionals refused to use natural products for cancer therapy for fear of unwanted side effects on the human body. However, extensive studies conducted on anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric revealed that the curcumin present in it was the hero behind such activities.

A study published in the International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, 2009 states that the compound uses multiple routes- cytokines, protein kinases, adhesion molecules and enzymes to lower inflammation and therefore can curb swelling and pain associated with cancerous growths. [5]

It has been shown to reduce inflammation in a number of different cancers through clinical and pre-clinical trials. Considering that it may be a chemotherapeutic boon, scientists are putting in substantial efforts to enhance its bioavailability to allow the further application. [6]

What does this mean?

Curcumin is the most potent anti-inflammatory agent of turmeric’s three curcuminoids- curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin. It curbs cancerous proliferation through genetic and enzymatic pathways. Its use as a pharmacological agent for cancer has shown promise in pre-clinical and clinical trials.

2. Curcumin is a natural anti-cancer agent

Several recent scientific studies are indicative of the anti-cancer or anti-tumor effects of turmeric. While products from the spice other than curcumin, such as turmeric oil are also potent anti-cancer agents, Agarwal BB and colleagues determined that these compounds, when working in combination, enhance the bioavailability of curcumin and help in fighting cancer. [7]

In a review article published by Current Medical Chemistry, it is mentioned that curcumin not only aids in several forms of cancer as seen through clinical trials. For example, colon and pancreatic cancer, cervical neoplasia and Barrets metaplasia.

This anti-tumour potential can be attributed to its ability to monitor key cell signal pathways, control inflammation and induce cell death. It also helps in the reversal of resistance to chemotherapy or radiotherapy in certain cells. [8]

What does this mean?

Turmeric is rich in antioxidant compounds like curcumin that prevent and reverse damage to cells by obliterating harmful free radicals. These compounds also regulate cell signals and thus is believed to be responsible for the compound’s chemotherapeutic abilities.

3. Curcumin has Multi-targeting action in cancer

Curcumin is useful in treating cancers of varying types and origins due to its ability to block and regulate the actions of a multitude of genetic factors and molecules. [9]

Since cancer is caused by not one, but multiple cellular events, it is important to use a pharmacological agent that can control its proliferation at every step. Curcumin interacts closely with the body cells and halts inflammation, cell proliferation and invasion and to create genetic changes with will lead to tumor death.It can also work in combination with other natural products to yield positive results. [10]

Brain C Jordan et. al study on a prostate cancer model last year demonstrated these properties of the turmeric extract elaborately. They used both in-vivo and in vitro techniques to validate their findings. [11]

What does this mean?

Since the compound, curcumin present in turmeric is capable of binding to cells and regulating their division, it has potential to be used as a chemopreventive agent as it acts against tumor formation.

4. Curcumin is a functional Cancer preventive food

A functional food can be defined as a food which provides health benefits. They are gaining popularity due to the many advantages they offer to disease prevention.

In 2011, the scientific journal, Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care classified curcumin as a superfood to look out for. They advised cancer researchers to take note of its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and cell death-inducing properties. In addition, it acts as a mediator to chemo-resistance and radio-resistance of cells. [12]

What does this mean?

Curcumin acts as a functional food as it provides numerous benefits to health and shows great potential in chemotherapeutics.

5. Nanocurcumin shows therapeutic potential in cancer

As mentioned above, curcumin exhibits a number of properties which make it ideal for cancer therapy. However, its usage remained limited due to poor bioavailability and its hyprophobic (insoluble in water) nature.

Researchers determined that nanotechnology could be used as a platform to optimize the use of this compound in the manipulation of cancer cell activity. Since 2013, multiple leaps have been made to this approach. Nano preparations are being made in varying forms including, nanoparticles, liposomes, micelles, nanoemulsions, solid lipid nanoparticles, and curcumin conjugates. [13]

These preparations are currently undergoing clinical trials, the post which they will be optimized and modulated to best suit human cancer models. [14]

What does this mean?

Nanotechnology offers a platform for targeted therapy of cancer. Drug delivery mechanisms can be optimised through this novel approach.

6. Curcumin prevents metastasis in cancer

Decelerating metastasis is highly important in cancer treatment. This can be obtained through the use of turmeric and its extracts.

Curcumin administration effectively obstructs a number of processes related to cancer progression. These include proliferation, invasion, angiogenesis and most importantly, metastasis. It binds and interacts closely with key genes, proteins and enzymes and monitors their cell signals and division patterns.

Bhargav N Waghela along with colleagues created a conjugated curcumin with a biodegradable polymer, Poly (D, L-lactic-co-glycolic acid) and studied its effects on human colon carcinoma cells. This conjugate significantly lowered the intensity of metastasis in the cancerous cells. [15]

Curcumin has also shown positive results in reducing metastatic progression in prostate cancer. It does so through de-activation of the keytumerigenic pathway, Wingless (Wnt)/ß-catenin signalling pathway. In turn, slowing the onset of cancer. [16]

What does this mean?

The compound curcumin in turmeric exerts antioxidant effects on cancer cells, it modifies protein interactions and prevents metastasis thereby avoiding cancerous developments.

7. Curcumin inhibits tumor growth

A 2016 Oncotarget study explored the use of curcumin for colorectal cancer therapy. In order to overcome the barrier of low bioavailability, it was paired with the small molecule, tolfenamic acid (TA).

A series of molecular and histopathological tests showed that antioxidant and cell death-inducing markers were highly expressed through the usage of this compound. These results are indicative of the tumor development halting ability of curcumin. [17]

What does this mean?

Curcumin modulates cell signals and upregulates antioxidant and apoptotic activities within cells. This does not allow for tumor growth and can be applied to treat malignant forms of cancer.

8. Curcumin induces apoptosis or cell death in cancerous cells

It is believed that curcumin could potentially bring about cancer cell destruction by deactivation of the Notch signalling pathway in the immune cells near the site of the tumor.

This was investigated by Dharmalingam Subramaniam et. al , where they saw that esophageal cancer cells lines when pre-incubated with curcumin displayed an enhanced cell death rate due to the deactivation of  Notch-1 activating γ-secretase complex proteins through which apoptosis was induced. [18]

What does this mean?

The administration of curcumin activates the tumor-killing genes in the immune cells surrounding the affected site. This ability to manipulate cell signals and reactions imparts cancer preventive activity to the compound.

9. Curcumin reverses drug resistance in cancer therapy

One of the key barriers to cancer treatment is the ability of the cancerous growths to resist the effects of treatment drugs rendering them useless.

Scientists have searched for various means to overcome this drawback in drug-assisted chemotherapy; one such agent could be curcumin. It employs multiple pathways to ensure the cancer cells elicit the desired response to drug regulated treatment.

Nathan M. Weir et al. demonstrated that apoptosis of tumors cells could be induced through curcumin treatment of cisplatin-resistant ovarian cancer cells (CR). (Cisplatin is a chelating agent and is the most commonly used drug for ovarian cancer).

These results were obtained through a comparative study of cisplatin-resistant and cisplatin sensitive cancer cell lines. The mode of cell death induction was the modulation of the gene p53 and enzyme caspase coupled with the generation of proliferation blocking agent, superoxides. [19]

Further studies carried out by Chearwae W revealed that administration of essential turmeric extracted curcuminoids to cancer cells could help modulate the reactions regulated by multidrug resistance inducing agent, the ATP-binding cassette transporter ABCG2 thus making cancer cells more sensitive to therapy. [20]

What does this mean?

Turmeric extracts can be applied in the treatment of cancer. It is capable of regulating cell cycles and inducing sensitivity to chemotherapeutic drugs in the multiplying cancer cells.

10. Curcumin reduces side effects of cancer therapy

Typical drawbacks associated with chemotherapy are treatment resistance and adverse toxicity. Curcumin offers a natural means of addressing these problems and helps ensure that treatment has its full effect.

Mehdi Shakibaei validated this by observing how combined treatment with curcumin and a common chemotherapeutic agent-5-fluorouracil (5-FU)affected colorectal cancer models.

It was noted that the compounds worked in synergy quite efficiently and regulated cellular pathways, namely,  NF-κB/PI-3K/Src pathway to allow for better drug absorption. [21]

What does this mean?

Curcumin helps enhance the effects of chemotherapy. Their modulation of cell signalling comes in handy here as it allows for penetration of the drug to slow down the rate of cancer spread.

11. Curcumin improves efficacy of Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy is a frequently used cancer treatment. It employs high-energy rays, most commonly x-rays to destroy cancer cells in the area undergoing treatment.However, healthy cells are also at risk of being damaged byradiotherapy, and often some cells are resistant to these rays allowing continued proliferation of the disease.

Curcumin offers a dual solution to these problems. As per the World Journal of Clinical Oncology, the compound acts as a radiosensitizer for malignant cells and a protective shield for the normal cells. It boosts the cellular defences in non-cancerous cells while forcing cell death to take place in cancerous ones. Being a natural product, it is safe and compatible with the human body. [22]

What does this mean?

Curcumin offers a means of overcoming the hurdles associated with radiotherapy. It interacts with sensitization of cancer cells to the rays coupled while protecting the normal cells at the same time.

12. Curcumin reduces external lesions of cancer

Lesions are formations that may arise in both malignant or being forms of cancer. They are often precursors to forms of melanoma. They are visible on the skin surface, highly painful and may sometimes have an unpleasant smell.

It is good to consider that curcumin can aid cancerous cells not just internally but as a topical agent as well.

Curcumin ointment has been used to reduce pain, size, and intensity of lesions for years now. Reduction in the pungent smell has also been seen. [23]

What does this mean?

Curcumin ointment provides symptomatic relief to patients displaying external cancerous lesions. It helps lower smell, pain and itching sensations.

Dosage of Curcumin For Cancer

A specific dosage of curcumin has not been prescribed for cancer therapy. However, with the help of experts in curcumin, we have posted the ideal dosage of curcumin for cancer in Turmeric/Curcumin Dosage For Cancer: A Scientific Plan

The most commonly used curcumin supplements are standardized 95% curcumin extract with Bioperine. Curcumin requires piperine or fats for absorption. (Read – How to improve Bioavailability of curcumin?)

However, you can go through other curcumin supplement formulations here that aid in increasing bioavailability of curcumin. (Read: 8 Popular Curcumin supplement types)

Always start with a low dosage and increase gradually over weeks. Curcumin supplements are best taken after meals and avoid taking them at the same time as any other medication. Maintain a 3-4 hour gap.

Consult a health practitioner before taking curcumin for cancer.

Precautions withe taking curcumin

Turmeric in the diet is safe and most studies have demonstrated that curcumin, even at high dosages, is safe. However, a few precautions must be noted (Read: Side effects & Precautions of Curcumin)

  • Rule out any allergies to turmeric and curcumin.
  • Avoid taking curcumin supplements on an empty stomach as they may trigger acid reflux in susceptible individuals.
  • Gastric discomfort is possible with the sudden introduction of curcumin, especially at high doses. Start with small dosages and increase gradually over weeks to recommended dosages to minimise gastric side effects. In case of serious gastric side effects, discontinue use of curcumin.
  • Curcumin interferes with drug metabolism. Hence it is advised to avoid taking curcumin supplements at the same time as taking other medicines. Maintain a 3-4 hour gap. Also, consult a health practitioner with regards to this to avoid any drug interactions.
  • Curcumin may increase the efficacy of cancer therapy. Please speak with your doctor before taking curcumin for cancer.
  • Curcumin has blood thinning activity. If taking blood thinners or suffering from a bleeding /clotting disorder it is advisable to avoid curcumin supplements in this case. (Read – Is turmeric a blood thinner?) Consult a health practitioner with regards to this.
  • Discontinue curcumin supplements 2 weeks prior to surgical procedures to avoid bleeding risk.
  • If suffering from gallstones or bile duct obstructions, avoid curcumin supplements. (Read – Is turmeric safe in gallstones?)
  • Ensure that you opt for good quality curcumin supplements that are free from toxicity, heavy metal contamination, fillers or additives.
  • It is best to take curcumin supplements with Bioperine or other agents that increase its bioavailability.
  • Consult a health practitioner before taking curcumin supplements.

Conclusion

Through the above studies, we can see that curcumin offers a variety of benefits for cancers of different origins. Its use is highly recommended by dieticians and nutritionists globally.

Along with regulating enzymes responsible for cancer progression and oxidative stress conditions, it also displays uniquely potent anti-inflammatory effects.

Through close interactions with and modulation of cancer related genes, proteins and enzymes it produces desirable results and shows promise as a chemotherapeutic agent

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