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What Is the Connection Between Curcumin and Cancer?

Turmeric, which contains curcumin.
Article Details
  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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The links between curcumin and cancer have not been well-documented until recently, but there are several scientific studies which demonstrate that curcumin may help attack cancer cells, help DNA repair itself, and help block chemicals from doing harm in the human body. Curcumin is derived from a plant that most commonly grows in hot and humid climates. The root contains multiple substances, and has been used in Chinese medicine since ancient times for a variety of ailments.

One of the main studies on curcumin and cancer is regarding the abilities the substance seems to have to block chemicals from entering cells. This is mainly true for certain toxic substances which mimic estrogen inside the body, although other chemical compounds have been tested with the same results. The process works because these chemicals invade and enter cells. Curcumin enters cells in much the same way, thus blocking entry of harmful chemicals.

In some studies, curcumin combined with the substance genistein caused tumors to halt growth in 100% of cases. Other studies, involving mice which were injected with a toxic chemical, showed that curcumin can actually prevent cancer in most cases. One hundred percent of mice injected with the chemical developed cancer of the liver, but when curcumin was added and the experiment was repeated, only 38% of the mice became affected.

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Other research on curcumin and cancer has shown that the substance has several other ways of preventing cancer production. It helps prevent inflammation, which is a major risk factor in the development of colon and certain other cancers. Curcumin also contains large quantities of antioxidants, which are substances that seek and kill free radicals. Studies have also shown that it revs up immune function, which is a large factor in cancer prevention.

One of the most startling discoveries in the study of curcumin and cancer is that curcumin apparently helps kill cancer cells while leaving normal healthy cells intact. The way in which it detects abnormal cells in certain types of cancer is not entirely understood, although it is known that the cancer cells' abnormal makeup plays a role. Unlike chemotherapy and other harsh cancer treatments, which also kill healthy cells in the process of destroying cancer, curcumin leaves healthy cells unharmed.

Pharmaceutical companies are attempting to patent synthetic versions of curcumin as a form of cancer treatment and prevention. While high-level synthetic curcumin may be beneficial to those at high risk for cancer or those who are already suffering, the natural version is a choice available to the masses already. Consumers can take curcumin in supplement form, or by eating foods with the spice turmeric, which is derived from the root of the same plant. Current cancer patients should speak with their doctors before taking curcumin while also taking certain chemotherapy drugs, as the two may counteract one another or have other adverse effects. This can generally be remedied by taking curcumin only once chemotherapy has ended.

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