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‘Luyang dilaw’ kills tumor cells—scientists

By Tessa Salazar
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:47:00 09/18/2009

Filed Under: Food, Medicines, Health

OFTEN called a ?superfood? by nutritionists, the medical field may now start calling the lowly curry the same moniker.

Nutrition specialists like Jonny Bowden, PhD (as written in his book ?The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth?), have known for a long time about the ?enormous? anti-inflammatory action of curry. Aside from that, curry has been proven to support liver health and is a powerful antioxidant.

Phyllis A. Balch, nutritional consultant and author of ?Prescription for Dietary Wellness,? writes that curry (or curcumin or turmeric), derived from the large, deep yellow rhizome (underground stem) of the plant Curcuma domestica (robust, rhizomatous, perennial herb native to Tropical Asia), occupies a venerable medicinal position in Asian and Indian healing. Curcumin (or ?curry? in culinary circles) is considered a tonic for the body.

In a recent study published at the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists journal titled ?Curcumin and Cancer Cells: How Many Ways Can Curry Kill Tumor Cells Selectively?? by Jayaraj Ravindran, Sahdeo Prasad and Bharat B. Aggarwal, curcumin was shown to have ?killed? tumor cells.

The abstract stated: ?We show that curcumin modulates growth of tumor cells through regulation of multiple cell signaling pathways including cell proliferation pathway (cyclin D1, c-myc), cell survival pathway (Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, cFLIP, XIAP, c-IAP1), caspase activation pathway (caspase-8, 3, 9), tumor suppressor pathway (p53, p21), death receptor pathway (DR4, DR5), mitochondrial pathways and protein kinase pathway (JNK, Akt and AMPK).?

The study described, in detail, how curcumin selectively kills tumor cells, and leaves normal cells untouched.

Aggarwal, professor of Cancer Medicine (Biochemistry) and chief of Cytokine Research Lab at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, who was recently interviewed by Science, explained, however, that curcumin has poor bioavailability (poor absorption) and requires different approaches for absorption into the body, one of which is the presence of piperine (black pepper). The improvement of the bioavailability of curcumin via piperine is described in detail at http://www.ncbi.nlm. nih.gov/pubmed/17999464.

A previous clinical trial by Aggarwal and his colleagues has also shown that curcumin is safe even at high doses (as much as 12 g/day) in humans.

?Despite the lower bioavailability, the therapeutic efficacy of curcumin against various human diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, arthritis, neurological diseases and Crohn?s disease, has been documented. Enhanced bioavailability of curcumin in the near future is likely to bring this promising natural product to the forefront of therapeutic agents for treatment of human disease,? Aggarwal concluded.

Chemotherapy costly, toxic

In the review, the scientists described cancer as a hyperproliferative disorder that was usually treated by chemotherapeutic agents that are toxic not only to tumor cells but also to normal cells, thereby producing major side effects. In addition, these agents are not affordable for most cancer sufferers.

Moreover, the scientists, stressed, such agents could not be used for cancer prevention. Traditional medicines are generally free of the deleterious side effects and usually inexpensive. Curcumin, a component of turmeric (Curcuma longa), is one such agent that is safe, affordable and efficacious, the scientists observe.

The study also cited lifestyle and diet playing a major role in the prevalence of certain types of cancers in certain societies. Among the potential dietary contributors to the low incidence of cancer in Southeast Asian countries is curry, a staple spice in the region. Turmeric powder is also extensively used in Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha medicine as a home remedy for various diseases.

Therapeutic modulators

The curcumin review article?s theme, with Marilyn E. Morris as guest editor, is ?Natural Products as Therapeutic Modulators.?

Numerous other medical applications for turmeric have also been observed. Balch cited traditional Chinese healers prescribing turmeric for liver problems and colic. American herbalists recommend turmeric for reducing pain and inflammation of arthritis (by reducing levels of histamine, a chemical produced by the body as part of its immune response) and preventing gallbladder disease. Other substances in turmeric help remove toxic byproducts that may contribute to the formation of cancer cells.

Medicinal Fruits and Vegetables book by Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan and Ma. Rebecca Maranaz Galvez Tan named it ?Dilaw? (Curcuma longa Linn.) it is also called luyang dilaw in Tagalog, kulyaw or kunig in Ilocos, Kinamboy in Visayas, angay or pangas in Pampanga.

Galvez-Tan cited studies of N.W. Walker?s Fresh Vegetables and Fruit Juices and Andrew Chevallier?s Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants which showed curcumin and its derivatives are responsible for inhibiting inflammation while turmeric has anticoagulant and anticarcinogenic activity property.

Turmeric, or curcumin, is available in powdered root form, in capsules and as a liquid tincture. Curcumin is also found in substantial amounts in yellow ginger (dilaw na luya).

E-mail the writer at tsalazar@inquirer.com.ph.

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