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Research Updates

Turmeric is a spice often used in Asian cooking, especially curries, and has for centuries been employed in Ayurvedic practice as a general body cleansing agent. Recently, however, Western medicine has begun to turn its attention to turmeric as a possible weapon in the fight against cancer. The main reason for this is curcumin, which is the active ingredient in turmeric and the compound that gives the spice its distinctive yellow color. It is both an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, and has been listed by the National Cancer Society as a compound that may have value as a preventative agent for different kinds of cancer.

A recent study has shown it to be effective in slowing the growth of breast cancer cells in mice, and delaying the progression of the disease into the lungs. The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Breast Cancer Research Program, was headed by Dr. Bharat Aggarwal of the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Texas’ Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston. Aggarwal’s study involved injecting mice with human breast cancer cells, and then monitoring them as the tumors grew. The mice were divided into groups, some receiving no treatment, some receiving curcumin only, others receiving an anti-cancer drug called paclitaxel, and the final group receiving paclitaxel plus curcumin. The tumors were eventually removed in a procedure similar to a mastectomy and studied. It was found that while 75% of the paclitaxel group and 95% of the “no treatment” group later developed the cancer in their lungs, only half of the curcumin group and only 22% of the paclitaxel plus curcumin group reported the same results. Thus, it would appear that turmeric may play a significant role in preventing breast cancer from metastasizing to the lungs. The reason for this is believed to be curcumin’s role in shutting down the specific protein that spurs the spread of breast cancer. Aggarwal states that “curcumin acts against transcription factors, which are like a master switch. “Transcription factors” he continues, “Regulate all the genes needed for tumors to form. When we turn them off, we shut down some genes that are involved in the growth and invasion of cancer cells.”

 

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