Can Turmeric Really Target Cancer? - Rejuvenation Therapeutics

Can Turmeric Really Target Cancer?

Can Turmeric Really Target Cancer?

Cancer has become a major health issue throughout the world. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimated that the direct medical cost of cancer was around $80.2 billion in the U.S. in 2015. In 2019, more than 1.7 million newly diagnosed cancer patients are expected in the U.S.1 With an increase in human lifespan, the prevalence of cancer will raise and subsequently incur huge costs. 

The Definition of Cancer

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, defines сancer as ‘One of a large number of diseases characterized by the development of abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably and have the ability to infiltrate and destroy normal body tissue. Cancer often has the ability to spread throughout your body.2

Let’s look into some alarming statistics provided by the World Health Organization:

  • Cancer is the 2nd largest cause of death in the world. Globally, about 1 in 6 deaths are due to cancer. It killed approximately 9.6 million people in 2018 alone.
  • There are five leading behavioral and dietary risks associated with cancer. These are low fruit and vegetable intake, high body mass index, lack of physical activity, tobacco and alcohol consumption. Tobacco consumption alone causes 22% of cancer deaths. 
  • Around 70% of casualties due to cancer occur in low- and middle-income countries.
  • The economic impact of cancer is significant and is rapidly increasing.3

Cancer treatment options

There are many types of cancer treatments available. The type of treatment depends on the severity of the disease and its type. Popular cancer treatment options are as follows:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted Therapy
  • Stem cell transplantation
  • Precision medicine 4

These treatments are very expensive and come with major side effects. Moreover, these options are not suitable for cancer prevention. In contrast, traditional natural medicines are inexpensive and free from deleterious side effects.

Turmerica miraculous spice 

Turmeric, scientifically known as Curcuma longa, is a traditional South Asian spice that is safe, affordable, and efficacious for killing cancer cells. Curcumin is the principal bioactive component present in Curcuma longa and it is able to target tumor cells and destroy them. It is a yellow-colored polyphenol, which is also known as diferuloylmethane. Apart from diferuloylmethane, turmeric spice also contains a minor amount of demethoxycurcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin, and cyclocurcumin. The oxygen bonded hydrogen moieties, otherwise known as hydroxyl groups, are present in these derivatives. These hydroxyl groups are responsible for antioxidant activity, while the methoxy groups are responsible for its anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative (inhibiting cell growth) activity.5

In various animal models, curcumin treatment inhibits tumor initiation and tumor promotion. Scientific studies have shown that curcumin is able to:

  • Influence various transmembrane proteins found in signaling pathways.
  • Influence different genes and gene products associated with cell death pathways. 
  • Bind with 30 different proteins such as DNA polymerase, focal adhesion kinase, thioredoxin reductase, protein kinase C, lipoxygenase and tubulin.
  • Bind with metallic ions like iron (Fe), copper (Cu), Manganese (Mn), and Zinc.6

A research team based at Washington State University has developed a curcumin-based drug delivery system and it successfully inhibits bone cancer cells and promotes the growth of healthy bones. This research work is published in the journal American Chemical Society Applied Materials and Interfaces.7

Curcumin controls tumor growth by regulating several cell signaling pathways which include cell proliferation, cell survival, caspase activation, tumor suppressor, death receptor, mitochondrial and protein kinase pathways.5

Mechanism of action of Curcumin 

Various scientific evidence suggests that curcumin follows two types of the mechanism of action for killing tumor cells: a) activation of cell death pathways; and b) inhibition of growth proliferation pathways. Numerous mechanisms for cell death of cancer cells exhibited by curcumin make it a very suitable agent for the drug delivery system and there are fewer chances of developing resistance against curcumin-induced cell death. Moreover, curcumin selectively kills tumor cells and normal cells remain unhurt, which makes it a more suitable candidate for drug development.5

Curcumin toxicity

Phase one clinical trials were conducted with curcumin on patients with high-risk conditions and premalignant lesions of the bladder, skin, cervix, stomach, or oral mucosa. The dosage ranges from 500-8,000 mg/ day for three months were well tolerated. Even at higher doses, curcumin appears non-toxic to animals and humans8,9.

Bioavailability of curcumin

Although curcumin produces no major side effects and is well tolerated by humans, its in-vitro bioavailability is poor and it becomes a hurdle to use it as a therapeutic agent. A pharmacokinetics study of curcumin reveals that curcumin might get metabolized in the gut through extensive conjugation and reduction.10 Curcumin forms various chemical compounds like glucuronide, sulfates, tetrahydrocurcumins, and hexahydrocurcumins. All of these compounds of curcumin are less bioavailable due to the water-repelling nature of these molecules.11,12

How to improve the bioavailability of curcumin?

Several formulations have been suggested by scientists to improve the bioavailability of curcumin.  These formulations include the addition of piperine to prevent glucuronidation of curcumin in the liver and the use of liposomal curcumin (with a special vehicle to deliver curcumin to a site of action), curcumin nanoparticles, phospholipid complex, and structural analogs. A scientific study reported that combined treatment of curcumin with piperine (20 mg/kg) produces a higher serum concentration of curcumin and increases the bioavailability of curcumin by 2,000%.13

Through various research studies, it is proven that curcumin can destroy a wide range of tumor cells through diverse mechanisms.5 Because of various cell death mechanisms, it is very unlikely to develop resistance to curcumin-induced cell death. Furthermore, being a natural curative agent, it does not have any side effects, it only targets cancer cells and does not harm normal cells. 


  1. American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures, 2019 May.
  2. Mayo Clinic. Cancer-Symptoms and causes, 2018 Dec 12.
  3. World Health Organization. Cancer Fact Sheet. 2018 Sep 12.
  4. National Cancer Institute. Types of Cancer Treatment.
  5. AAPS J. 2009 Sep;11(3):495-510.
  6. Curr Drug Targets. 2011 Mar 1; 12(3): 332–347.
  7. ACS Appl Mater Interfaces. 2019 May 15;11(19):17184-17192.
  8. Clin Cancer Res. 2004 Oct 15;10(20):6847-54.
  9. Anticancer Res. 2001 Jul-Aug;21(4B):2895-900.
  10. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2002 Jan;11(1):105-11.
  11. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005 Jan;14(1):120-5.
  12. Nutrients. 2019, 11(9), 2147.
  13. Planta Med. 1998 May;64(4):353-6.