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Curcumin and chemotherapy

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA. There is growing evidence that curcumin, a component of the spice turmeric, may be effective in the prevention of breast, prostate, colon, and oral cancers. Extracts containing curcumin have been used in India for generations in the treatment of inflammation, skin wounds, liver and gallbladder disorders, and persistent coughs. It is estimated that the average dietary intake of curcumin in India and certain parts of Southeast Asia is 200 mg/day or more.

Curcumin is a highly effective scavenger of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and also inhibits the JNK (c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase) pathway. Both ROS and an activated JNK pathway are crucial elements in successful chemotherapy. Researchers at the University of North Carolina now report that curcumin may interfere with the action of several chemotherapy drugs used in the treatment of breast cancer. Culture experiments showed that curcumin inhibited the cancer cell destroying capability of several chemotherapy drugs (mechlorethamine, Adriamycin, and camptothecin) by as much as 70%. The results were confirmed in experiments with laboratory mice. It is believed that curcumin exhibits its effect through ROS scavenging and inhibition of the JNK pathway.

The researchers conclude that more research is urgently needed to establish whether breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy should be told to limit their intake of curcumin and turmeric extracts.
Somasundaram, S., et al. Dietary curcumin inhibits chemotherapy-induced apoptosis in models of human breast cancer. Cancer Research, Vol. 62, July 1, 2002, pp. 3868-75

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