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Curcumin - The New Wonder-Drug?

Heart, Pain, Stroke, Age related illnesses, Mental Health | September 28, 2014 | Author: The Super Pharmacist

cancer, heart, mental health, Pain

Curcumin - The New Wonder-Drug?

Curcumin is a chemical naturally produced in the rhizome of the turmeric plant, and has been used for centuries in traditional Asian medicine. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) may be familiar as an aromatic, commonly used in Indian cuisine, used to give a distinctive yellow colour to dishes.

Curcumin, a compound known as diferuloyl methane, has been gathering fame over the years for its apparent health-promoting properties. A number of reports and anecdotal evidence claim beneficial effects of curcumin in many health issues, these include:

  • Menstrual disorders
  • Jaundice
  • Liver disorders
  • Rheumatic disorders
  • Pulmonary conditions, including bronchitis and cough
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Eye disorders
  • Cardiovascular disorders

These are explained by interactions with various biological mechanisms that play a role in both normal biochemical (e.g. immune) functions and disease states. Whether curcumin can truly cure or prevent the conditions with which it has become linked is yet to be confirmed. It has been tested as a therapeutic application in many scientific and clinical studies. These include:

Curcumin for Wound Healing

Curcumin for Wound HealingCurcumin has demonstrated the ability to facilitate natural healing through regulation of the biological mechanisms involved in wound repair. This includes tissue growth and structure, and regulating the production of collagen, a protein that forms the basis of scar tissue. It has an established role in the control of infection. Therefore, curcumin is a valid ingredient in novel wound treatments, including dressings, some of which are currently in development.

Curcumin for Alzheimer's Disease Prevention

Alzheimer's disease is a condition in which brain cells are damaged and killed, leading to cognitive decline and the loss of memory in many patients. Cell damage occurs mainly as a result of chemical damage (such as oxidation) and abnormal aggregrates (or plaques) of the protein beta-amyloid, which causes mechanical and further chemical damage to brain cells6. There is evidence that curcumin may alleviate this damage in a number of ways.

  • An in vitro (cell culture) trial found that curcumin reduces oxidative damage caused by beta-amyloid. Another in vitro trial found that curcumin can inhibit the formation of beta-amyloid plaques within cells, thus potentially reducing their formation in the brain. Curcumin has also demonstrated the potential to reduce beta-amyloid-induced cognitive deficit and oxidation in animal trials.
     
  • An animal trial also revealed that curcumin can bind to beta-amyloid directly, thus inhibiting plaque formation and cell damage. A clinical trial randomising 27 patients to 1g curcumin, 4g curcumin or placebo was inconclusive, possibly due to the fact that the trial did not last long enough for cognitive deficits to become apparent in the placebo group. However, increased beta-amyloid breakdown products in the serum of those in the curcumin groups showed that the chemical was effective in preventing plaque formation. Therefore, further investigation and clinical testing of curcumin in Alzheimer's disease may be warranted.

Curcumin for Cancer Treatment

Curcumin also demonstrates the ability to significantly increase tumour cell death when combined with the best chemotherapy drug used in pancreatic cancer treatment, gemcitabine, in comparison with untreated controls and gemcitabine alone. The lack of significant clinical activity (beyond the consistent ability to reduce the immune reactions caused by pancreatic cancer) may have been explained by the poor absorption into the system (and thus to its targets, i.e. tumours) from the oral formulation, thus affecting its ability to be effective as a drug. 

Curcumin has been linked to the inhibition of tumour growth and the genetic mutations that may lead to cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is a highly malignant and prevalent form of the disease, which responds to the currently approved treatments in less than 10% of cases.

A trial assessing 22 patients receiving 8g oral curcumin a day showed that the chemical elicited a clinical level of reduction in biological markers of cancer, and significant tumour reduction in one of the patients.

This is known as bioavailability. The bioavailability of curcumin is reportedly increased in a new formulation known as Theracumin. A lower dose (30 milligrams) of this was compared to an equal amount of curcumin in human trials. Theracumin demonstrated a 27-fold increase in an important factor of bioavailability in comparison with the original chemical. This formulation is at the stage of clinical development in which safe and effective doses are determined. Currently, it has demonstrated efficacy and a lack of toxicity at higher doses, but has the side-effect of mild diarrhoea. Theracumin may be one of the most promising anti-cancer drugs of the near future.

Curcumin as an anti-inflammatory

Curcumin is associated with the control of many natural immune-system molecules that control the inflammatory response, including the 'master control' of inflammation, NF-kappaB (NFkB).

Curcumin asĀ an anti-inflammatoryInflammation is a hallmark of many chronic conditions and disorders, including psoriasis, diabetes, bronchitis, arthritis and  cardiovascular disease.

High levels of another pro-inflammatory molecule, C-reactive protein, play a role in the development of heart disease and atherosclerosis. Six trials including 342 human subjects comparing curcumin administration to placebo found that the chemical (or its derivatives) significantly reduced C-reactive protein.

A trial of 67 patients with type 2 diabetes randomised to 150mg curcumin twice daily or conventional treatment found that curcumin significantly reduced inflammatory tissue damage. However, the low bioavailability of curcumin again restricts its use as a therapeutic agent in these conditions. The development of formulations similar to Theracumin may unlock the potential of curcumin as an anti-inflammatory drug.

Curcumin for Gastrointestinal Health

Diseases of the gastrointestinal tract often involve inflammation or the growth of abnormal and cancer cells. Curcumin may have potential in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, mainly through inhibition of NFkB, demonstrated in a number of animal trials. It may alleviate the intestinal ulcers often seen in this condition.

A small-scale trial including ten patients with inflammatory bowel disease found that curcumin appeared to elicit positive effects on disease progression and medication use, but did not report significant results. A larger trial comparing 45 patients taking 2g curcumin daily in addition to their usual medications to 44 continuing normal treatment showed that there was a significant reduction in clinical disease scores in the curcumin group. However, the relapse rates at 12 months for both groups were not significantly different.

Curcumin may prevent the development of gastrointestinal polyps, a precursor of colorectal cancer. A trial of five patients receiving 480mg curcumin three times daily for six months found that polyp size and number were significantly reduced.

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