Ovarian cancer affects the ovaries that are situated on either side of the uterus. This cancer is not easily detectable until it has spread to the abdomen and pelvis. Unfortunately symptoms of ovarian cancer often mimic other conditions.
Some of them are – abdominal pressure, bloating, pain, pelvic discomfort, persistent gas, indigestion or nausea, constipation, frequent urination, loss of appetite etc.
The treatment of this cancer produces severe side effects such as neuropathic pain, kidney damage, hear loss, hair loss etc.
Natural products that can reduce these side-effects and help in or after the treatment are very sought after. Such a potential is seen in the common spice, turmeric.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric, scientifically known as Curcuma longa is the plant that belongs to the family Zingiberaceae. The rhizome of this plant is the popular spice that is used fresh or as a dried powder in cooking.
Turmeric is an essential ingredient of the traditional medicines as well, such as the Ayurveda and Chinese herbal medicine.
It is also used frequently for cosmetic purposes and for dyeing. Its colour, flavour and medicinal properties make is a widely applicable natural product.
Recently its medicinal properties are of huge interest and have attracted a large number of researches in different aspects. The compounds called curcuminoids have found to the most biologically active substance of turmeric which impart a great number of properties to it.
Some of the most acknowledgeable properties of turmeric are those of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, analgesic, immune-modulatory etc.
There are number of other components of turmeric that also have important biological activities. These components are proteins, carbohydrate, minerals (Potassium, Sodium, Iron etc), Vitamins (B&C), volatile oils, α-linolenic acid, omega 3 fatty acids etc.
6 Proven Benefits of Turmeric in Ovarian Cancer
The anti-cancer property of turmeric is beneficial in a number of cancers including ovarian cancer. Turmeric can be useful in killing the cancerous cells and preventing the cell proliferation. It can also aid in protecting the normal cells from damages procured by the drugs used for the treatment.
1.Turmeric kills ovarian cancer cells
The treatment of a cancer requires killing the cells that have an abnormal rapid multiplication, i.e. the malignant cells. The drugs that are employed induce cell death by interfering in various molecular pathways that ensure the survival of cancer cells.
These drugs are chemicals isolated from natural substances or synthetically synthesized. Turmeric possesses certain compounds that work on a similar line and can induce cell death or apoptosis in a number of cancer cells.
The compound curcumin has significant anti-cancer activity that is useful in inducing apoptosis in ovarian cancer cells.
The apoptosis induced by curcumin is known to be carried out in a number of ways. It regulates several cell signalling pathways that ensure survival of cancer cells, such as anti-apoptotic pathways, cell survival pathways, mitochondrial pathways etc.
There are multiple pathways known for the induction of apoptosis or cell death by curcumin in the ovarian cancer.
It is known to induce apoptosis by increasing the expression of Caspase-3(a protein involved in apoptosis) and lowering the expression of NF-kappa B (involved in cancer development). This could inhibit the growth of ovarian cancer by up to 89%.
A role of enhanced expression of micro RNAs (vital elements in the cell that contribute to genetic expression) promoted by curcumin is also found in stimulation of apoptosis and prevention of cell proliferation in the ovarian cancer.
The reduction of the expression of cancer cell pro-survival proteins like Bcl-2 & survivin, Akt signalling (a pro-survival pathway) and activation of pro-apoptotic p38 MAPK pathway by curcumin also kills the ovarian cancer cells.
What does it mean?
It means turmeric use can help to kill the ovarian cancer cells. The chief component curcumin interferes with various molecular pathways and induces cell death significantly.
2.Turmeric inhibits angiogenesis and prevents tumour growth
Angiogenesis or development of blood vessels is a requisite for cancer survival just like a normal cell, as it is the process that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the cells.
In case of ovarian cancer, an abnormality in angiogenesis process occurs due to imbalance of pro-angiogenic and anti-angiogenic factors. This results into an uncontrolled angiogenesis and thus, an uncontrolled multiplication of malignant cells.
The primary factors involved in angiogenesis are VEGF and angiopoietins, which has been found to be associated with the ovarian cancer.
Tumorigenesis or progression of tumour goes hand in hand with angiogenesis, i.e. angiogenesis is indispensable for tumour growth.
Therefore, in order to prevent tumour growth inhibition of angiogenesis is very important.
Turmeric is one of the natural agents that can inhibit angiogenesis in cancer. It targets various signalling pathways involved in angiogenesis.
Curcumin inhibits expressions of protein kinase C, angiopoietin-1 and NF-kappa B which are involved in the process of angiogenesis.
In a study on ovarian cancer, curcumin suppressed the NF-kappa B pathway to inhibit angiogenesis and thus the tumour growth. It significantly reduced the tumour size, by as much as 55%.
What does it mean?
It means turmeric consumption can inhibit the process of angiogenesis (formation of blood vessels), essential for the tumour growth. This can help in treatment of ovarian cancer by reducing the tumour growth and cell proliferation.
3.Turmeric sensitizes ovarian cancer cells to chemotherapy and radiotherapy
A hurdle to chemotherapy or radiotherapy is the heterogeneity of ovarian tumours. Not all kinds of tumour tissues equally respond to a particular drug and this response also varies on an individual basis.
The sensitivity of these therapies is reduced primarily by the action of pro-survival molecules in the cancer cells.
A way of overcoming this problem is making the ovarian cancer cells sensitive to these treatments. Curcumin from turmeric can be an effective way of doing this.
It has been found to increase the sensitivity of platinum based drugs which are used to treat various types of cancers, including ovarian cancer. It reduced expression of various factors such as, NF-kappa B and thus, induced apoptosis.
In a study, it was found that administration of curcumin 6 hours before chemotherapy or radiotherapy enhanced the sensitivity of ovarian cancer cells to chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
This activity of curcumin was a result of its ability to down-regulate pro-survival proteins, such as Bcl and Mcl-1. This increased the apoptosis upon even low doses of the chemotherapeutic drug.
What does it mean?
It means turmeric administration can enhance the sensitivity of ovarian cancer cells to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This can improve the effect of these therapies and can help in a better treatment.
4.Turmeric can overcome resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs
Chemoresistance is the resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs. Solid tumours are mostly prone to chemoresistance due to the survival mechanisms of the tumour cells.
Development of resistance to chemotherapy is a common phenomena observed in the ovarian cancer. The main reason behind this is domination of anti-apoptotic mechanisms over apoptotic ones that promote survival of the cancer.
Turmeric is an efficacious natural agent against the chemoresistance. Curcumin has been found to overcome the resistance by its action on various molecular pathways.
Its effect on chemoresistant ovarian cancer cells is known to activate various pathways of apoptosis to induce cell death. This can help in tackling resistance to multiple chemotherapeutic drugs.
Cisplatin is a widely used drug for ovarian cancer treatment. It tends to introduce various genetic alterations that result into growth promotion in the ovarian cancer cells.
Curcumin is known to inhibit the cisplatin-resistance in ovarian cancer cells. The mechanism involved is the induction of superoxide (a free radical) generation, cell division arrest and promotion of apoptosis.
What does it mean?
It means combining turmeric with chemotherapy can be beneficial in conquering the chemoresistance, commonly observed in ovarian cancer. The interference of turmeric in various survival molecular pathways is able to reverse the resistance.
5.Turmeric can help prevent ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer is a hard to detect ailment. By the time it is detected, it becomes difficult to treat the cancer and survival chances of the patient become dim.
Prevention of occurrence of this cancer therefore, becomes valuable. A number of natural substances are known that have chemopreventive properties, i.e. properties that can prevent cancer.
Turmeric is one of these natural substances that possess extensive chemopreventive activity.
The chief component of turmeric, i.e. curcumin alters numerous molecular pathways that are involved in the process of carcinogenesis (cancer formation). It reduces the inflammatory responses and signalling that promote cancer development.
It also inhibits the pro-survival pathways in the cancer cells and lead to cancer killing.
Curcumin has been found to alter the changes in genes that can lead to cancer. Its variety of action inhibits various genetic expressions to prevent the development of the cancer.
What does it mean?
It means inclusion of turmeric in diet can enable the body to fight the changes that can lead to development of ovarian cancer.
6.Turmeric can reduce side effects of cancer therapy
Chemo-toxicity or radio-toxicity is the side effects procured by the use of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Most of these therapies cause serious side-effects ranging from neuropathy to organ damage.
Many of these side-effects can be life-threatening and severely affect the quality of life of the patient.
A common drug used for ovarian cancer treatment results into a number of toxicities such as allergic reactions, suppression of bone marrow activity, kidney damage etc.
Turmeric can ameliorate several of these side-effects and protect the healthy cells. Curcumin has been found to reduce the damage to kidneys induce by cisplatin by its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.
It has also been found to reduce the side-effects such as neurotoxicity caused by the platinum-based drugs used in ovarian cancer treatment.
Radiation therapy is also employed in the treatment of ovarian cancer, especially the recurrent ones. Radiations also cause several side-effects like, bone marrow suppression, cataract, dermatitis etc.
Turmeric is a radio-protector as well, i.e. it protects the normal cells from the side-effects caused by radiation and also reduces these side-effects significantly.
What does it mean?
It means turmeric intake can reduce the side-effects caused by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. At the same time it also protects the healthy cells from the damage induced by these therapies.
Dosage of Turmeric for Ovarian cancer
Inclusion of turmeric in regular diet is highly beneficial in preventing all types of cancer, including ovarian cancer.
The chief bio-active constituent of turmeric, i.e. curcumin is poorly absorbed in the body.
Therefore, it should be combined with black pepper and/or healthy fats such as coconut oil to enhance its absorption by the body. (Read How to improve turmeric’s bioavailability?)
High dose of curcumin is needed for the cancer treatment. A dose plan can be followed by ovarian cancer patients from the article Turmeric/ Curcumin Dosage for Cancer: A Scientific Plan.
Turmeric consumption should be commenced with lower doses (1/4-1/2 teaspoon per day for a week) and can be increased slowly over a few weeks to 2-3 teaspoons per day, if no side-effects are detected.
Turmeric may cause acid reflux if taken in on an empty stomach. (Read Does turmeric cause acid reflux?)
Turmeric should also not be taken at the same time as other medicines because it can interact with certain medications. A gap of at least 3-4 hours is a must be maintained between the two. (Read Black pepper in GP: Does it cause drug interaction?)
If not taking Golden Paste or turmeric supplements, turmeric consumption is highly advisable in the regular diet to prevent and treat ovarian cancer.
Turmeric powder or fresh root can be added to soups, rice dishes, smoothies, curries or other preparations. Half-an-inch of fresh turmeric root or its juice can be taken regularly as well.
If looking for some good brands of organic turmeric, you can check our recommendation on best organic turmeric brands.
Dietary use of turmeric is valuable against cancer. Turmeric in dietary amounts is considered to be safe and does not pose any harm.
Please consult a doctor before taking turmeric supplements, especially when taking cancer therapy.
Turmeric may cause acid reflux if stomach is empty. Therefore, it is better avoided on an empty stomach. (Read Does turmeric cause acid reflux?)
Turmeric supplements should not be taken concomitantly with any other therapeutic agent. Maintain a 3-4 hour gap between the two. Also take a doctor’s advice on this.
Turmeric causes blood thinning which can elevate the risk of bleeding problems. Therefore, turmeric supplements should be avoided by people with bleeding disorders but dietary amounts are safe. (Read Is turmeric a blood thinner?)
Being a blood thinner, turmeric may interrupt the process of blood clotting after a surgery. Therefore, its use should be discontinued around 2 weeks before a surgery.
Turmeric as a spice, in high amounts, can enhance the risk of developing kidney stones (only in those susceptible to it) and can worsen gout condition. (Read Is turmeric safe in gout? Does turmeric cause kidney stones?)
If suffering from gallbladder issues, avoid the use of turmeric supplements.
Turmeric supplements should be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Turmeric is a highly beneficial natural product for the patients of ovarian cancer.The anti-cancer property of turmeric is useful in killing the ovarian cancer cells.
Moreover, it can also assist in the treatments used by enhancing the sensitivity of the cancer cells, overcoming the resistance to chemotherapy and reducing the toxicity induced by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
The regular dietary use of turmeric has a great implication in terms of the prevention of cancer development in the body.