Posted on March 17, 2020 at 12:00 PM
A new review of the literature explores how turmeric can be useful in cancer care. The authors agree that it may be but remember that there are other obstacles ahead of the clinic
Turmeric is an important part of the ginger family. Native to India and Southeast Asia, people have spent thousands of years using turmeric root to taste their milk.
Historically, people equate the soothing powers of turmeric. Even now, for all ills some hail turmeric is a panacea. The success has recently surged, as the latest turmeric latte fad reveals. Nonetheless, the truth never meets the hype as in other aspects in life.
The chemical in turmeric which most medical researchers are interested in is a polyphenol called diffuloylmethane, more commonly referred to as curcumin. This chemical has been the subject of most work into the possible forces of turmeric.
Scientists have been pitting curcumin toward a variety of signs and disorders throughout the years, like asthma, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, kidney disorder, obesity, and neurodegenerative diseases, of differing progress rates.
Scientists, however, have concentrated on cancer above all. According to the writers of the latest study, of the 12,595 articles released between 1924 and 2018 by researchers on curcumin, 37 percent concentrate on cancer.
In the current study, featured in the journal Nutrients, the authors focused primarily on cell signaling pathways that play a role in the growth and development of cancer, and how turmeric could affect them.
In the last two decades, cancer care has dramatically progressed, but there is still a long way to go before we can beat cancer. "The quest for new and more successful medicines" is, as the authors say, still critical research.
The scientists paid special attention in their analysis of work concerning breast cancer, prostate cancer, blood cancers, and digestive system cancers.
The writers suggest that "curcumin represents a promising candidate to be used alone or in combination with other medications as an important anticancer medication."
Curcumin can, according to the study, affect a broad variety of molecules that play a role in cancer, including transcription factors that are essential to DNA replication; growth factors; cytokines that are critical for cell signaling; and apoptotic proteins that help regulate cell death.
In addition to the debates concerning the molecular effect of curcumin on the pathways to cancer, the authors further tackle the potential issues with using curcumin as a drug.
They illustrate, for example, that if a person takes curcumin orally — for example in a turmeric latte — the body easily breaks it down into metabolites. Consequently, any active additives are unable to hit a tumor site.
With this in mind, some researchers are attempting to devise ways to transmit curcumin to the body and shield it from metabolization. Researchers who encapsulated the chemical in a protein nanoparticle reported positive findings in the laboratory and in rats, for example.
While a great many papers on curcumin and cancer have been published by scientists, further research is needed. Many of the experiments in the present study are in vitro tests, meaning the researchers were using cells or tissues to perform them in laboratories. Although this type of research is vital for understanding which interventions may or may not influence cancer, not all in vitro studies translate to humans.
Relatively few studies tested the anticancer properties of turmeric or curcumin in humans, and the clinical studies that took place were of a small scale. Curcumin though, apart from the difficulty and minimal evidence, still has potential as an anticancer drug.
Scientists are still working on the issue. For example, the authors list two ongoing clinical trials, all aimed at "evaluating the therapeutic impact of curcumin on the progression of primary and metastatic breast cancer, as well as assessing the likelihood of adverse effects." They also point to other ongoing human research that examine curcumin as a treatment for prostate cancer, cervical cancer and lung.
The authors agree that curcumin belongs to "the most promising category of bioactive natural compounds, particularly in the treatment of many forms of cancer." However, their enthusiasm for curcumin as an anticancer hero is offset by the reality that their study has revealed, and they end their paper on a low note: "[C]urcumin is not free from side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, headache,... It also showed poor bioavailability due to low absorption, rapid metabolism and systemic removal which limits its effectiveness in treating diseases. The validity of curcumin as an effective anticancer agent needs further research and clinical trials in humans.
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