A research team from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute in USA and Pondicherry University has shown that curcumin, a bioactive ingredient present in turmeric (Curcuma longa) can prevent and treat bowel cancer (colorectal cancer). Even though the anti-cancer properties of curcumin were not hidden from anyone, the mechanism with which this bright yellow organic compound prevents the growth of cancer remained unknown.
R Baskaran, the associate professor (biochemistry and molecular biology) at Pondicherry University, who headed the research team, found the mechanism with which Curcumin destroys hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer cells and documented their results.
Baskaran, while throwing light on the fact that how curcumin selectively kills bowel cancer cells leaving normal cells, said the organic compound leads to the death of cancerous cells by improving the protein level called GADD45a (genes made activate at the time of DNA damage). But the compound does not cause an increase in the level of the same protein present in the normal cells, thereby sparing them. Baskaran further said that studies on the Curcumin effect on both cancer and normal cells will help in the preclinical and clinical research on this potential cancer chemo-preventive agent.
The research team has now put in collective efforts to combine curcumin with other natural compounds to discover a new blend with augmented anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and antioxidant properties. “The absorption rate of curcumin in the human body is low. We can work on a combination of curcumin along other organic compounds with anti-cancer properties to effectively cure colorectal cancer,” he mentioned.
Incidences of bowel cancer in India have been lower in comparison with western countries. The yearly incidence rates for rectal and colon cancer in men are 4.1 and 4.4 per lakh population respectively.
It is due to the regular use of turmeric in Indian homes that the incidence of bowel cancer is low, the researchers say. However, current changes in our lifestyle and food habits have put Indians at a great risk. Bowel cancer is the third most widespread form of cancer across the globe (fourth in India). According to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), bowel cancer is the cause behind 8% of all cancer deaths in the country.