Curcumin, commonly known as turmeric, is the yellow colouring agent in curries, derived from the Indian plant Curcuma longa.

Besides its traditional use as a spice and colouring agent, curcumin also has a well-documented history in medicine.

Both East and West have held its medicinal properties in high regard, and recent scientific studies have revealed a wide range of pharmacological and clinical activities.

A unique combination of properties such as its antioxidant, digestive, anti-inflammatory, antiplatelet, cholesterol lowering and potential anti-cancer effects give turmeric an important role in the prevention and treatment of many diseases.

Most cancers are caused by dysregulation of as many as 500 different genes and agents that target multiple gene products are needed for prevention and treatment of cancer.


Anticancer Activity

The chemopreventive effects of curcumin have been extensively studied and research demonstrates that curcumin inhibits all three stages of carcinogenesis – initiation, promotion, and progression.

Much of the beneficial effect is due to its inhibition of the transcription factor nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kappaB) and inhibition of proinflammatory pathways. Curcumin modulates transcription factors controlling phase I and II detoxification of carcinogens; down-regulates pro-inflammatory cytokines, and scavenges free radicals

In the promotion and progression stages of carcinogenesis curcumin decreases frequency and size of tumors and induces apoptosis via suppression of NF-KB and AP-1 in several cancer types.

Improper up regulation of cyclooxygenase (COX-2), lipoxygenase (LOX) and /or iNOS has been associated with the pathophysiology of certain types of human cancer as well as inflammatory disorders. The anti-inflammatory effect of curcumin is most likely mediated through its ability to inhibit those important enzymes.

Because inflammation is closely linked to tumour promotion, curcumin with its potent anti-inflammatory property is anticipated to exert chemoprotective effects on carcinogenesis.

Epidemiological data suggest that curcumin may be responsible for the lower rate of colorectal cancer in Asian countries.

The low incidence of large bowel cancers in Indians observed to 1999 has been partially attributed to the presence of curcumin in Indian cooking.

Orally administered curcumin has been shown to be protective against carcinogen-induced tumourigenesis at a variety of sites including stomach, duodenum, colon, breast and liver.

Curcumin, has been shown to interact with a wide variety of proteins and modify their expression and activity.

These include inflammatory cytokines and enzymes, transcription factors, and gene products linked with cell survival, proliferation, invasion, and angiogenesis.

In other words, curcumin inhibits the transformation of normal cells to cancerous, as well as destroys mutated cancer cells so they cannot spread. It enhances liver function and inhibit the synthesis of a protein thought to be instrumental in tumor formation.

Curcumin also prevents the development of additional blood supply necessary for cancer cells growth.


Curcumin Anti-inflammatory Properties

High oral doses of curcumin have demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity in acute and chronic inflammation. In some research, at the tested dosage, curcumin had similar efficacy to cortisone and phenylbutazone.

A three month trial in Italy, investigated the effect of curcumin 50 patients with osteoarthrits of the knee.

After 90 days, the researchers found a 58 percent decrease in overall pain and stiffness as well as an improvement in physical functioning among the curcumin group compared to the controls.

They also found a 300 percent improvement in the emotional well being of the curcumin patients compared with the others and blood tests showed a 16-fold decline in C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation.

Patients in the curcumin group were able to reduce their use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs by 63 percent, compared to the other group.

An in vitro study suggests that curcumin may have an effect on allergic diseases through inhibiting the production of cytokines affecting eosinophil function and IgE synthesis.


Prevention And Treatment Of Cardiovascular Disease

The low toxicity combined with cholesterol-lowering, antiplatelet and antioxidant activities imply that curcumin is highly suited to the long-term prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.

Patients with high homocysteine levels have been found to have endothelial cells which do not function properly. Endothelial cells are the cells which line the inside of our blood vessels and, amongst other functions, prevent blood from clotting and plaques from forming. Curcumin has been found to prevent endothelial dysfunction and it was suggested that dietary curcumin plas a role in the treatment of patients with high homocysteine levels.

Recent studies indicate that dietary administration of curcumin may have beneficial effects in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and cystic fibrosis. 

Studies have noted that elderly people living in Indian villages appear to have the lowest incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the world, with just 1% of those aged 65 years and older suffering this terrible condition.

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles speculated that curcumin, a common element of the Indian diet, could hold the key given that it is known to be a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent.

Poor diet, allergens, pollution and stress can cause your liver to become sluggish. Studies have shown that curcumin increases important detoxification enzymes in your liver and increases bile flow — this helps your liver break down toxins and helps you digest fats.

Animal studies suggest that curcumin supplementation may benefit diabetic patients by improving microvascular function and preventing cardiovascular complications.

Curcumin may also play a beneficial role in the prevention of Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts and gallstones.


Further Reading:



Kawamori T, Lubet R, Steele VE, et al. Chemopreventive effect of curcumin, a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agent, during che promotion/progression stages of colon cancer. Ctiwccr Res 1999;59:597-601

Product-evaluation registry of Meriva®, a curcumin-phosphatidylcholine complex, for the complementary management of osteoarthritis, 2010, Belcaro G, Cesarone MR, Dugall M, Pellegrini L, Ledda A, Grossi MG, Togni S, Appendino G, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Chieti-Pescara University, Pescara, Italy,

“1alpha,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 Interacts with Curcuminoids to Stimulate Amyloid-beta Clearance by Macrophages of Alzheimer’s Disease Patients”; Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease; A. Masoumi, B. Goldenson, S. Ghirmai, H. Avagyan, J. Zaghi, K. Abel, X. Zheng, A. Epinosa-Jeffrey, M. Mahanian, P.T. Liu, M. Hewison, M. Mizwicki, J. Cashman, M. Fiala; 2009

“Curcumin protects against acute liver damage in the rat by inhibiting NF-kappaB, proinflammatory cytokines production and oxidative stress.” Biochim Biobhys Acta; K. Reyes Gordillo, J. Segovia, M. Shibayama, P. Vergara, M.G. Moreno, P. Muriel; 2007

“Dietary curcumin significantly improves obesity-associated inflammation and diabetes in mouse models of diabesity.” Endocrinology. S.P Weisberg, D.V. Tortoriello; 2008

“Curcumin Inhibits Adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 Adipocytes and Angiogenesis and Obesity in C57/BL Mice”; The Journal of Nutrition; Asma Ejaz, Dayong Wu, Paul Kwan, Mohsen Meydani; 2009