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Turmeric component kills cancer cells

Nathan Seppa

The curry spice turmeric gets its yellow color from curcumin. This same compound kills cancer cells in laboratory tests, researchers report in the Sept. 20 International Journal of Cancer.

When mixed with cells from human head and neck cancers, curcumin stopped proliferation and induced cell suicide, or apoptosis, in the malignant cells, says study coauthor Yasunari Takada, a molecular biologist at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Curcumin had no effect on healthy cells.

Curcumin is an antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory effects. In this study, it suppressed the activity of NF-kappa-B, a protein that is overproduced in tumor cells. NF-kappa-B switches on genes for proteins involved in inflammation and cell replication.

Previous research suggested that curcumin stops proliferation of prostate cancer cells (SN: 5/18/02, p. 317). It also kills human breast and liver cancer cells in lab cultures, scientists from India report in the September Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. Tests on mice hint that curcumin might fend off Alzheimer's disease, too (SN: 12/8/01, p. 362).

Cancer researchers have taken an interest in curcumin because many countries with curry-rich cuisines, such as Sri Lanka, have lower cancer rates than Western countries have.

Takada and his coworkers are now screening curcumin's effects on other types of cancer cells, including melanoma.



Aggarwal, S., Y. Takada, et al. 2004. Inhibition of growth and survival of human head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cells by curcumin via modulation of nuclear factor-kappaB signaling. International Journal of Cancer 111(Sept. 20):679–692. Abstract.

Syng-ai, C., A.L. Kumari, and A. Khar. 2004. Effect of curcumin on normal and tumor cells: Role of glutathione and bcl-2. Molecular Cancer Therapeutics 3(September):1101–1108. Abstract.

Further Readings:

Ghosh, S., and M. Karin. 2002. Missing pieces in the NF-kappaB. Cell 109(April 19):S81–S96. Abstract.

Ireson, C.R., et al. 2002. Metabolism of the cancer chemopreventive agent curcumin in human and rat intestine. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention 11(January):105–111. Full Text.

Kawamori, T., et al. 1999. Chemopreventive effect of curcumin, a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agent, during the promotion/progression stages of colon cancer. Cancer Research 59(Feb. 1):597–601. Full Text.

Seppa, N. 2002. Spice component versus cancer cells. Science News 161(May 18):317. Available at Science News.

Travis, J. 2001. A spice takes on Alzheimer's disease. Science News 160(Dec. 8):362. Available at Science News.


Yasunari Takada
Cytokine Research Section
Department of Experimental Therapeutics
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
University of Texas, Houston
1515 Holcombe Boulevard, Box 143
Houston, TX 77030

From Science News, Volume 166, No. 15, October 9, 2004, p. 238.