Turmeric Curcumin Reprogramming Cancer Cell Death
The anticancer effects of the turmeric pigment curcumin extend well beyond its ability to block carcinogens. The anticancer effects of curcumin mainly result from the multitude of ways it regulates programmed cell death.
Turmeric Can Turn the Self-Destruct Mechanism Back On In Cancer Cells
It is estimated that the human body consists of 10 or so trillion cells, that’s a million million. Almost all of these cells get turned over within approximately 100 days. We’re like a new person, every three months. We reinvent ourselves physically. And since we’re just physically made of air, water, and food—those are the only inputs, you are what you eat literally, physically. In a sense our body has to rebuild itself every three months with the building materials we deliver to it through our stomach. Our mouths are like the access road to the continual construction site to our body. Trucks roll in three times a day. What do we want them to deliver? Some shoddy cheap stuff we scrounged around for or bought at the discount outlets that’s just going to fall apart? Or do we want to build our foundation solid? We are each walking around inside the greatest known architectural structures in the universe. Let’s not ruin such grand blueprints by consuming junk.
Anyway, we only own the biological real estate we’re born with, so if we need to rebuild every three months, we also need a wrecking crew. If we’re replacing 10 trillion cells every hundred days, that means we have to kill off like 100 billion cells every day. Out with the old, in with the new.
We do that primarily through apoptosis, pre-programmed cell death, from the Greek ptosis, meaning falling, and apo, away from, it’s our cells falling away from our body. For example, we all used to have webbed fingers and toes. Literally. Each one of us in the womb until about 4 months, when apoptosis kicks in, and the cells in the webbing in between kill themselves off to separate our fingers.
Some cells overstay their welcome, though, like cancer cells. They don’t die when they’re supposed to by somehow turning off their suicide genes. What can we do about that? Well, one of the ways curry kills cancer cells is by reprogramming the self-destruct mechanism back into cancer cells. Let me just run through one of these pathways.
FAS, is a so-called death receptor, which activates the FAS associated death domain, along with death receptor five, and death receptor four. FADD then activates caspase-8, which ignites the death machine, and kills the cell. Where does curry powder fit into all this?
In cancer cells, curcumin, the pigment in the spice turmeric that makes curry powder yellow, upregulates and activates death receptors, as has been demonstrated in human kidney cancer cells as well as skin cancer, and nose and throat cancer.
It can also activate the death machine directly, as has been shown in lung cancer and colon cancer. Caspases are so-called executioner enzymes, that when activated, destroy the cancer cell from within by chopping up proteins left and right, kind of death by a thousand cuts.
And that’s just one pathway. Here’s all the other ways curcumin can affect apoptosis. And here’s all the different types of cancer cells curcumin can kill, but it tends to leave normal cells alone for reasons that are not fully understood. Overall, this review showed that curcumin can kill a wide variety of tumor cell types through diverse mechanisms. And it’s because curcumin can affect numerous mechanisms of cell death at the same time, it’s possible that cancer cells may not easily develop resistance to curcumin-induced cell death, like they do to most chemotherapy. Furthermore, its ability to kill tumor cells and not normal cells makes curcumin an attractive candidate… for, supper? Can’t make money on some spice you can buy anywhere. No, an attractive candidate for drug development.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
Dr. Michael Greger is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and creator of NutritionFacts.org. This service provides the first non-commercial, nonprofit, science-based service to provide daily updates on the latest discoveries in nutrition.