Turmeric is truly ‘The spice of Life’!
My quest of learning about turmeric’s healing power and creating awareness about it has lead me to this new concept.
It is hard to believe but its proven that turmeric is one of the best spices that can protect you from DNA damage.
Now who would know that a spice lying in your kitchen cupboard can protect something intricate like your DNA.
Well even I was amazed, so I decided to a dig a little deeper to understand how this wonder herb works.
But before we get to that lets run over a few details about DNA and how DNA damage occurs.
What is DNA?
DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid makes up the basis of hereditary material. It is found in every cell and it stores all the biological information required for a cell to replicate. We are aware that most DNA molecules have a helical structure.
The basic units that make up the DNA are known as base pairs (Adenine, Thymine, Guanine, Cytosine).
These attach to a sugar molecule and phosphate molecule to form nucleotide and these are arranged as a spiral.
The structure is similar to that of a ladder where base pair from the rungs of the ladder and sugar and phosphate molecules from the vertical sides.
Both the strands of DNA store the same information and it is self replicating. It is important that when cells divide the new cell should have the same copy of DNA as old cell.
What is DNA damage?
DNA damage is when the original structure of DNA is altered. This can result from exposure to external toxins like UV and tobacco smoke or due to reactive compounds formed in the body as a result of metabolism.
DNA damage can also occur over the course of time due to errors in the replication process. Damage is seen as break in the strand, missing base pair or a chemically altered base pair.
Thankfully the body has its own way of repairing such damage.
Most DNA damage goes through repair which is again not 100% efficient. Unrepaired DNA is stored in non replicating cells such as brain cells and scientists say that this contributes to aging.
In replicating cells these damages are reproduced which lead to mutation and in some cases cancer.
So two of the major consequences of DNA damage are: cancer and aging.
How can turmeric protect DNA from damage?
Turmeric and its bioactive ingredient curcumin show genoprotective property- it protects the integrity of DNA.
Curcumin plays a dual role in DNA damage. In case of cancerous cells, curcumin can induce DNA damage and prevents DNA repair in order to sensitize the cancerous cells to chemotherapeutic agents leading to cell death.
Curcumin at times acts as a prooxidant agent that generates reactive oxygen species and induces DNA injury leading to cell death.
This is beneficial in case of cancerous cells.
However this is not the case for normal cells. Oxidative damage is imbalance between prooxidant and antioxidant agents in the body.
This can alter the structure of the base pairs especially guanine. Alcohol and water extracts of turmeric demonstrate antioxidant activity which protects from such damage.
Lipid peroxidation is one of the consequences of oxidative stress where fats present in cell membranes are destroyed by reactive species leading to cell death and tissue damage.
Research proves that antioxidant activity of aqueous turmeric extract inhibits this process and offers 80% protection to DNA against this damage.
A study was conducted to evaluate bioavailability of spices and the measurements made included evaluation of antioxidant capacity, anti-inflammatory property and level of protection of DNA damage.
Heat treated turmeric consumption prevented DNA strand breaks, offered oxidative protection and reduced the levels of pro-inflammatory agents within 1 hour of consumption.
Now that’s how strong turmeric is when it comes to protecting your health!
A novel way by which curcumin protects the liver from damage is by elevating the levels of DNA repair enzymes that repair the damage done to liver cells by oxidative stress.
1. Turmeric’s protective action against toxin mediated DNA damage
Exposure to pollutants and other toxins can damage DNA and lead to mutations.
Perfluorooctane sulfonate, a compound used in textile, leather and photographic industry, is a pollutant. It affects immune system and causes cancer.
An experimental study shows that animals exposed to this pollutant experience DNA damage and curcumin treatment inhibits it within the range of 30-55%.
Arsenic is an element used commonly to strengthen alloys and arsenic contamination of groundwater is a major problem.
A study was conducted to evaluate the effect of curcumin on DNA damage and chemical changes in base pair in arsenic exposed population of West Bengal, India.
Curcumin treatment suppressed the change in chemical structure of base pair and increased the concentration of DNA repair enzymes.
Curcumin acted at protein and genetic levels to reduce arsenic induced DNA damage and decrease the risk of arsenic induced cancer.
Exposure to pesticides is common as they enter our system through polluted water or agricultural produce.
Curcumin with carvacrol (bioactive constituent of oregano) offers anti-genotoxic (protection of genetic and DNA matter) activity against pesticide induced DNA damage.
Ferric nitrilotriacetate is a cancer causing agent and can affect the kidneys.
In an experimental study animals were exposed to this toxic agent and DNA damage was observed. Curcumin in diet attenuated the damage by:
- Preventing the toxin from binding to DNA
- Preventing changes in chemical structure of base pair
- Protecting against oxidative damage due to its antioxidant nature
Smoke is another potent toxin. Exposure to smoke could be in the form of cigarette smoking, fuel smoke, smoke arising from incineration.
These can lead to formation of DNA adducts in which the toxin strongly binds to DNA and damages it.
PhIP is a food carcinogen found in cooked meat and can cause breast cancer.
A study was conducted to evaluate the effect of curcumin on PhIP exposed normal breast cells. Curcumin inhibited the toxicity produced by PhIP and prevented occurrence of DNA damage.
It increased the concentration of tumor suppressing gene and prevented cell death. Results of this study indicate that curcumin can be developed as an anti-PhIP food additive.
UV rays cause DNA damage and toxicity in human skin cells.
Alcoholic extracts of turmeric are proven to protect skin cells from such damage by stimulating production of an antioxidant protein, Thioredoxin.
Researchers concluded that turmeric should be included in anti-UV products.
Chemicals present in teeth whitening products, tobacco and alcohol cause oxidative damage to cells present in oral cavity leading to risk of developing oral fibrosis (inflammation and development of excessive fibrous tissue in the mouth).
Research shows that curcuminoid treatment can reverse the damage that these chemicals have on DNA and restore synthesis of DNA.
Paracetmol overdose or long term use can cause liver damage by inducing oxidative stress and DNA damage.
Curcumin treatment lowers DNA fragmentation (breaking of DNA strands into pieces) and lipid peroxidation occurring in drug induced liver toxicity by 3 folds!
Curcumin also lowers the expression of genes that cause cell death thereby ameliorating liver damage.
What does this mean? Toxins that cause DNA damage include pollutants, pesticides, food additives, medicines, UV rays, smoke etc. Curcumin prevents these toxins from causing DNA damage.
2. Turmeric’s effect on DNA damage and its implications in cancer
As mentioned earlier, DNA damage that is not repaired can undergo replication leading to mutation and cancer. Several studies have investigated the therapeutic role of turmeric in such case.
One of the ways by which turmeric kills cancer cells is by inducing DNA damage. Demethoxycurcumin causes toxicity in lung cancer cells by inducing DNA damage and preventing DNA repair.
Here is an interesting study that explains the dual role of curcumin in DNA damage. Quantum dots is a type of technology used in killing cancer cells by UV radiation but is not used actively due to its safety concerns.
A study was conducted to evaluate the effect of curcumin and quantum dots on cancerous and normal cells.
Quantum dots produced toxicity and initiated DNA damage in both types of cells. Interestingly curcumin enhanced such damage in cancerous cells but at the same time it protected normal cells from damage by demonstrating antioxidant activity. Awesome, right!?
Curcumin also acts as a chemopreventive agent by influencing DNA damage. High fat diets lead to development of intestinal polyps (fleshy growth occurring along the line of large intestine) which can develop into colon cancer.
Curcumin reverses development of such polyps and demonstrates anti-tumor effect by enhancing DNA repair.
DMBA is a potent carcinogen that causes breast cancer. In an animal study DMBA exposure lead to toxicity in which DMBA attached to DNA forming adducts.
Curcumin treatment suppressed such activity and reduced formation of mammary tumors. It was concluded that curcumin as a chemopreventive agent can prevent formation of mammary tumors and adduct formation.
Similar chemopreventive action of curcumin has been proven in case oral precancerous lesions (tumors in the oral cavity) which is very common in India.
What does this mean? Curcumin induces DNA damage as a means to destroy cancerous cells. However its protects normal cells from such toxicity.
It also acts as a chemopreventive agent where it prevents development of cancer by protecting DNA from damage and inducing DNA repair.
3. Effect of the Golden Spice on other consequences of DNA damage
Aging is a consequence of DNA damage. A study was conducted on human skin cells to understand the effect of curcumin on aging.
As a part of the experiment DNA damage and oxidative stress was induced. Curcumin at low doses repaired such damage and improved antioxidant defences.
However this was true only for low doses. It was concluded that curcumin can be included in anti-aging interventions.
Accumulation of beta amyloid protein in brain cells is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Beta amyloid protein causes oxidative stress and induces DNA damage in brain cells.
Curcumin reverses such damage and protects the cell from amyloid beta induced neurotoxicity.
Radiotherapy is used in treatment of cancer but it causes oxidative stress and DNA damage to promote cell death in cancerous cells. This proves to be deleterious for normal cells.
Curcumin along with radiotherapy prevents such effects. It reduces oxidative stress, increases the level of antioxidant enzymes and attenuates DNA damage and thereby acts as a radioprotector.
What does this mean? Turmeric’s protective effect against DNA damage validates its use as an anti-aging agent and a radioprotector.
Also this property of turmeric can be useful in treating diseases like Alzheimers.
Since most of the research studies are conducted in the lab with direct exposure of cells to curcumin, you may be wondering whether consuming turmeric will help.
Surprisingly adding turmeric to your diet can cut down your chances of DNA damage by half!
Browse our website for great turmeric recipes. We would suggest that you take turmeric with pepper or oil and also cook it to increase its chances of absorption in the body.
Read detailed article on how to increase absorption of turmeric>
In general one can take around 1 tsp of turmeric powered per day without issues.
Any good quality turmeric powder is fine, if you are confused and have no idea about the brands, please check our list of recommended brands here>
Some other great recipes can be found here>
Turmeric as a part of diet is considered safe.
Before starting on turmeric supplements consult a doctor to avoid any adverse events.
Taking turmeric or curcumin supplements for a long time can lead to stomach upset.
Few medications with which you should not take turmeric are: blood thinning drugs, medicines that reduce stomach acid and diabetes medication.
Certain conditions in which you should avoid taking turmeric supplements are:
- Pregnancy and lactation
- Prior to surgical procedures
- Gall bladder issues
The scientific evidence presented in this article leave you with no choice but to start including turmeric in your diet right away.
A stitch in time saves nine! After all it can protect you from early signs of aging and reduce your risk of developing cancer.
Do share your experience with turmeric on our blog. We would love to hear from you.