How Curcumin Can Kill Cancer Cells
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Cancer is a disease that medical science has yet to conquer. Most medical treatments for cancer are painful, toxic, and expensive, and all but uncomplicated surgery are sure to cause side effects¹. Medical treatments are, with the exception of certain surgical procedures, useless for preventing cancer. Curcumin, a chemical found in the spice turmeric used to make curry powder, is a treatment for cancer that can also be used²in prevention and that is safe, inexpensive, free of side effects, and often (although not always) effective.
The curry chemical curcumin offers more potential for treating and preventing cancer than almost any other naturally compound. And the ways that curcumin can kill cancer are confirmed by literally thousands of peer-reviewed laboratory and clinical science-based studies. Just search Microsoft’s Academic Research site to see over 1500 research papers relating to cancer and curcumin.
Curcumin Kills Cancer By Apoptosis
Conventional medical treatment kills cancer cells through a process called necrosis. This is killing the cancer cell by external means, such as toxic chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.
Curcumin kills cancer cells through a process called apoptosis³. Inaccurately termed “cell suicide,” apoptosis is actually the planned and orderly completion of the life cycle of the cell that allows it to be replaced by a new, healthy cell to keep tissues, organs, and the whole body healthy. Curcumin activates certain genes (such as the well-known “cancer watchdog” gene p53)⁴ that tell the cell to stop functioning. Curcumin also serves as a catalyst for the creation of proteins that create a “bud” in the membrane lining the cell, allowing easy access for the immune system to surround, digest, and recycle it.
Curcumin Kills Cancer By Mitochondrial Deactivation
Mitochondria are the energy-making centers of every cell. They transform sugar and fatty acids into energy, and they are essential for the continued existence of the cell.
Curcumin activates no fewer than four different proteins that shut down the mitochondrial furnaces⁵. The extraordinary fact about curcumin’s effect on the mitochondria is that it shuts down the mitochondria in cancerous cells, but it has no such effect on the mitochondria of healthy cells.
Curcumin Kills Cancer By Preventing the Replication of DNA
Cancer cells, like all cells, multiply by a process that begins with an “unzipping” of the double helix of the cell’s DNA. The coiled DNA straightens out into a rope, and the two strands separate from each other. The strands then attract the nucleotides adenosine, guanine, cytosine, and thiouracil (A, G, C, and T) that complement each stand and duplicate the original helix, two strands of DNA becoming four. Then the strands zip together and the cell splits in two, creating a mother cell and daughter cell. The difference in cancer cells is that they replicate themselves much more often than their healthy counterparts.
Curcumin stops the part of the process that doubles the strands of DNA before the sick cell divides itself. By interacting with over a dozen different chemical messengers that are unique to cancer cells, curcumin stops replication in certain kinds of cancer cells but does not stop the multiplication of healthy cells.
Curcumin Counteracts the Effects of Testosterone on Certain Kinds of Cancer
Certain kinds of cancer, especially some strains of prostate cancer, are stimulated by androgens, which are testosterone and its byproducts. Curcumin interferes with the ability of testosterone and testosterone-derived hormones from “docking” to specialized receptors on prostate cancer cells.
Curcumin Counteracts the Effects of Insulin on Certain Kinds of Cancer
Chances are that you have heard that sugar feeds cancer. Actually, it isn’t sugar that increases the activity of cancer cells, it’s the insulin the pancreas secretes that transports the sugar inside the cell. Insulin doesn’t only transport glucose sugar, it also transports fatty acids and regulating hormones that stimulate the growth of cancer cells, especially lung cancer and pancreatic cancer cells. Curcumin short-circuits this process.
Curcumin Inhibits an Enzyme Called Ornithine Decarboxylase
Antioxidants cause destruction of the mitochondria and DNA of a cell. If the mitochondria and DNA that are being protected are inside a cancer cell, antioxidant protection is not a good thing. Curcumin inhibits an antioxidant enzyme called ornithine decarboxylase, which is especially effective in protecting the mitochondria of leukemia cells.
Curcumin Inhibits an Enzyme Called Glyoxylase
Cancer cells burn more fat and sugar than healthy cells, because they reproduce themselves more frequently and they need to travel to form tumors and to create their own blood supplies. Curcumin limits the activity of an enzyme called glyoxylase that enables cells to use large amounts of fat and sugar.
Curcumin Stimulates a Process Called Autophagy
Certain kinds of cancer treatment actually work by tricking the cancer cell into consuming itself for food, a process called autophagy. Curcumin increases the rate autophagy⁶, increasing the effectiveness of certain kinds of cancer medications.
These are just a few of the ways curcumin kills cancer. But how can we know that curcumin really works?
A good estimate of the power of curcumin to kill cancer can be found in a comparison in the rates of various kinds of cancer in the United States, where few people get curcumin in their daily diet, and India, where almost everyone does. According to the GLOBOCAN 2000 study:
- In the United States, every year for every 1,000,000 people there are 660 new breast cancer cases and 160 new breast cancer deaths. In India, every year for every 1,000,000 people there are 79 new breast cancer cases and 41 new breast cancer deaths.
- In the United States, every year for every 1,000,000 people there 530 new colon cancer cases and 220 new colon cancer deaths. In India, the figures are 30 new colon cancer cases and 18 new colon cancer deaths.
- In the United States, every year for every 1,000,000 American men there are 690 new prostate cancer cases and 130 new prostate cancer deaths. For every 1,000,000 Indian men, the figures are 20 new prostate cancer cases and 9 new prostate cancer deaths.
- In the United States, every year for every 1,000,000 people there are 660 new lung cancer cases and 580 new lung cancer deaths. For every 1,000,000 people in India, the figures are 38 new lung cancer cases and 37 new lung cancer deaths.
- In the United States, every year for every 1,000,000 people there are 202 new bladder cancer cases and 43 new bladder cancer deaths. In India, there are 15 new bladder cancer cases and 11 new bladder cancer deaths.
Clearly, if you get cancer, you are more likely to survive it in the USA than in India (although, interestingly, a greater percentage of women survive ovarian cancer in India than in the USA). Curcumin alone is not enough to beat cancer. But for almost every kind of cancer, there are only 1/10 as many new cancer cases, when the relative sizes of the populations are considered, as there are in the United States.
There is good evidence that curcumin prevents cancer, and it doesn’t take a lot The average consumption of curcumin in India is the equivalent of just 80 mg per day. That 80 mg of curcumin per day may reduce the risk of cancer by 90% and more.
Curcumin is inexpensive, it’s effective, and it is side-effect free. Consider incorporating curries into your diet and taking at least a minimal, 80 mg dose of curcumin every day.
- Aggarwal BB, Sethi G, Baladandayuthapani V, Krishnan S, Shishodia S. Targeting cell signaling pathways for drug discovery: an old lock needs a new key. J Cell Biochem. 2007; 102: 580–92.
- Anand P, Sundaram C, Jhurani S, Kunnumakkara AB, Aggarwal BB. Curcumin and cancer: an “old-age” disease with an “age-old” solution. Cancer Lett. 2008; 267: 133–64.
- Choudhuri T, Pal S, Das T, Sa G. Curcumin selectively induces apoptosis in deregulated cyclin D1-expressed cells at G2 phase of cell cycle in a p53-dependent manner. J Biol Chem. 2005; 280: 20059–68
- Tsvetkov P, Asher G, Reiss V, Shaul Y, Sachs L, Lotem J. Inhibition of NAD(P)H: quinone oxidoreductase 1 activity and induction of p53 degradation by the natural phenolic compound curcumin. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005; 102: 5535–40.
- Pan MH, Chang WL, Lin-Shiau SY, Ho CT, Lin JK. Induction of apoptosis by garcinol and curcumin through cytochrome c release and activation of caspases in human leukemia HL-60 cells. J Agric Food Chem. 2001; 49: 1464–74.
- Thayyullathil F, Chathoth S, Hago A, Patel M, Galadari S. Rapid reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation induced by curcumin leads to caspase-dependent and -independent apoptosis in L929 cells. Free Radic Biol Med. 2008; 45: 1403–12.