Curcumin spice, made from drying and grinding turmeric plant roots into the bright, deep yellow key ingredient of curry powders, kills head and neck cancers by inhibiting cancer-fueling inflammation and growth-driving cell signaling, a UCLA study found.
The researchers analyzed human saliva and discovered that pro-inflammatory signalling molecules called cytokines that promote cancer growth both within saliva and in cancer cells were suppressed by curcumin in the mouth, ScienceDaily reported about the findings that were published September 15 in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.
The researchers took saliva samples from 21 head and neck cancer patients, 13 control subjects with tooth decay and five healthy control subjects, gave all of them 1,000 miligrams of curcumin, and took another saliva sample one hour later, testing for (pro-inflammatory and cancer growth promoting) IKKβ kinase activity.
The results, confirmed by an independent lab in Maryland that was sent blind samples, showed the levels of cancer-feeding pro-inflammatory cytokines in the saliva were diminished in the patients who chewed the curcumin, and the cancer-growth-driving cell signaling pathway was also inhibited, with patients tolerating the curcumin well and reporting no toxic side-effects -- only that their mouths and teeth turned bright yellow temporarily.
Senior author Dr. Marilene Wang, explained that munching curcumin, derived from the naturally occurring tumeric plant (Curcuma longa L. of the Ginger, or Zingiberaceae, family) that has long been used as a medicine and cooking spice in Middle Eastern and South Asian countries, put the spice in contact with saliva and cancer, and reduced the level of cancer boosting cytokines by binding to the enzyme IKK, which inhibits kappa β kinase, and preventing it from activating the cancer growth promoting transcription factor known as nuclear factor kappa β (NFκβ), and she stated:
"The curcumin had a significant inhibitory effect, blocking two different drivers of head and neck cancer growth. We believe curcumin could be combined with other treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation to treat head and neck cancer. It also could perhaps be given to patients at high risk for developing head and neck cancers -- smokers, those who chew tobacco and people with the HPV virus -- as well as to patients with previous oral cancers to fight recurrence."
In future research with curcumin as a cancer-killer, the researchers plan to test longer-term use to determine if the cancer inhibiting effect will increase, and treat cancer patients weeks prior to surgery, testing for changes by studying biopsies taken before the patients chew curcumin doses, and after their surgeries, looking for differences.
In related news:
In April 2010 a research team from Stanford University and the University of South Dakota wrote they found small doses of curcumin sensitized ovarian cancer to radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Digital Journal reported in September 2010 about research into possible cancer-fighting properties and other health benefits of curcumin spice.