Curcumin, a molecule present in large quantities in the Indian spice turmeric, is increasingly recognized as one of the nutritional molecules with the greatest potential for preventing cancer, in particular breast cancer.
Turmeric is a bright yellow spice made by grinding the dried roots of Curcuma longa, a plant in the ginger family.
Particularly popular in India, turmeric has been used for more than 4000 years as an essential ingredient in the culinary traditions of this country (especially in the manufacture of curry) as well as a remedy to treat various diseases.
In traditional Indian medicine (Ayurvedic), turmeric is used both externally against burns, stings or bruises, and for internal disorders, including gastric problems, arthritis and various inflammatory diseases. Research work carried out in recent years shows that the beneficial effects associated with turmeric are mainly due to curcumin, the main polyphenol found in this spice. One of the most important characteristics of this molecule is its strong anti-inflammatory activity, a property that derives from its ability to specifically block certain genes essential for the production of molecules that attract the immune cells responsible for inflammation.
From a clinical point of view, this activity is very interesting, because inflammation is closely involved in the development of most chronic diseases, in particular heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
Turmeric Attacks Cancer Cells on Multiple Fronts
It has been suspected for several years that the high consumption of turmeric could participate in the low incidence of certain cancers among the inhabitants of India. For example, while breast cancer is one of the main causes of cancer in industrialized countries, Indian women are about five times less affected by this cancer.
Many studies suggest that this preventive action of turmeric is linked to the ability of this molecule to attack cancer cells on several fronts:
– inhibition of the growth of several types of cancer cells;
– inhibition of resistance to chemotherapy;
– stimulation of the death of these cancerous cells by the process of apoptosis;
– inhibition of angiogenesis, the formation of blood vessels in tumors;
– inhibition of inflammation.
Researchers from Michigan have also shown that curcumin also has the property of interfering with cancer stem cells present in breast tissue. These stem cells play a very important role in the progression of cancer because they have the ability to continuously give rise to new cancer cells.
Worse still, these stem cells are very resistant to chemotherapy drugs and are therefore able to reform a tumor some time after the end of the treatments.
Turmeric is easily included in the diet
By using stem cells isolated from mammary tissue, the researchers observed that the addition of curcumin quickly caused their growth to stop, whereas the molecule had no impact on that of normal cells. This inhibitory effect of curcumin is greatly increased by the presence of piperine, a molecule present in black pepper which is known to increase the bioavailability of curcumin.
These results are extremely important, as they suggest that including turmeric in the diet could prevent the development of breast cancer as well as improve the effectiveness of treatments by reducing the population of cancer stem cells present in the tumor. . Moreover, it is interesting to note that a preliminary study carried out in France in women with advanced forms of breast cancer indicates that curcumin is well tolerated and improves the response of patients to chemotherapy.
Kakarala et al. Targeting breast stem cells with the cancer preventive compounds curcumin and piperine. Breast Cancer Res Treat.
Bayet-Robert et al. Phase I dose escalation trial of docetaxel plus curcumin in patients with advanced and metastatic breast cancer. Cancer Biol Ther. 9:8-14.