Grandma’s Remedy for Cancer

Indian scientists have found the exact mechanism by which curcumin, the active ingredient of turmeric, helps prevent cancer.

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From a swollen thumb to a bruise to food poisoning, good old grandma has often had a single remedy: a dash of turmeric. Indian researchers have now found that this dietary supplement plays a positive role in taming cancers too.

The ubiquitous spice of the typical Indian kitchen has of late been a subject of much curiosity among medical researchers because of its well-known wound healing and anti-inflammatory properties.

Researchers stumbled upon the anti-cancer potential of curcumin, the active ingredient of turmeric, recently. Since then, a number of research groups all over the world have been engaged in animal studies to prove curcumin’s efficacy.

Reported in the latest issue of Carcinogenesis, the work by a team of Indian medical scientists led by Girish Maru of the Advanced Centre for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer (ACTREC), Mumbai, is one of first studies on the subject.

More importantly, the Mumbai scientists were able to unravel the exact mechanism behind curcumin’s action. They found that curcumin not only inhibits the enzymes that directly help a cancer-causing agent to damage the DNA but also increases the availability of yet another set of enzymes that helps the body fight the carcinogenic compound.

For their studies the ACTREC researchers used the carcinogen benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P), a compound commonly found in cigarette smoke and wood smoke and that is implicated in lung cancer. They fed mice with curcumin for 16 days. Then the animals were given a relatively high quantity of B[a]P enough to induce DNA damage that can lead to tumour growth.

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Subsequent studies on how the carcinogen interacted with various sets of enzymes inside the animals gave interesting results. The mice fed with curcumin had much depleted levels of cancer-promoting enzymes compared with the control group. Also, they showed higher levels of friendly enzymes such as glutathione S-transferase, indicating increased detoxification of B[a]P.

But is the quantity of turmeric, which one consumes through food, enough to have a protective effect against cancers? Scientists do not think so.

Though very potent, the levels of curcumin in turmeric are as low as 0.01 per cent. Moreover, curcumin uptake by the human body is relatively low. However, scientists are trying to increase curcumin uptake by the human body. For instance, they have already found that adding one part of piperine, the compound responsible for black pepper’s pungency, to 20 parts of curcumin can increase the uptake by several hundred-fold.

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Sources: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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