Turmeric is being hailed by many health experts and researchers as the cancer treatment of the future.
There’s now a wealth of studies demonstrating that this miraculous little root helps fight cancer in nearly every conceivable way—from boosting the body’s own cancer-healing abilities to directly targeting cancer stem cells (the “mother” cells that control the growth and spread of tumors).
Turmeric even appears to function as a “universal” cancer treatment, meaning that it’s effective against any type of cancer cell. This is a claim that no chemotherapy drug or other conventional cancer treatment can make. And best of all, turmeric works its magic without any of the damaging side effects of chemotherapy or radiation treatments (in fact, turmeric actually diminishes the negative effects of chemotherapy drugs when used in conjunction with them, and can also increase the efficacy of chemotherapy).
One important mechanism through which turmeric gives the body a one-up on cancer is the inhibition of angiogenesis—that is, the formation of blood vessels that provide cancer cells with everything they need to flourish.
Angiogenesis is essential for tissue growth and repair; it allows for the formation of capillaries, which enervate tissues with nutrients and oxygen-rich blood. Because cancer cells also require the same sustenance in order to proliferate, they hijack the capillaries or nearby tissues. Developing tumors even send out chemical signals called angiogenic factors, which encourage the body to form new blood vessels that can feed the multiplying cancer cells.
While this mechanism is a frighteningly intelligent one, it also betrays one of the simplest means of combatting the spread of cancer: if cancer cells are cut off from their food supply, they perish.
This is where turmeric comes in.
Nipping cancer in the bud
Researchers have discovered that, as usual, turmeric excels at inhibiting angiogenesis in cancer cells (it seems there’s nothing this remedy can’t handle).
It carries out this task both directly and indirectly—that is, by directly inhibiting the cellular activity through which your body forms new blood vessels to feed cancer cell colonies, and by inhibiting the factors that encourage and facilitate the process of angiogenesis. This fact is so well-established that data supporting it takes up an entire chapter in a research textbook on turmeric, The Molecular Targets and Therapeutic Use of Curcumin in Health and Disease.
Here’s an easy way to think about how this process works: turmeric inhibits the mechanisms by which new blood vessels are formed for cancer cells (the “direct” inhibition), and it limits the ingredients that are necessary to build the blood vessels (the “indirect inhibition). Let’s take a closer look at what researchers have discovered about this therapeutic benefit, and why it makes turmeric such a powerful anti-cancer agent.
Cell migration and adhesion molecules. Angiogenesis can be summed up in the following way: complex systems of proteins send out signals, which “call” endothelial cells to the site of new blood vessel formation. Once the cells have properly migrated, they multiply, and chemical building blocks called adhesion molecules help connect the developing cell colonies to previously existing tissue.
Turmeric helps take this tool out of the hands of cancer cells by inhibiting the cell interaction that makes migration possible, and by reducing the activity of adhesion molecules like ICAM-1, VCAM-1, and ELAM-1. As explained in the next paragraph, most of turmeric’s work takes place on the level of protein signaling pathways—it turns off angiogenesis signals before the process can even begin for cancer cells.
Protein inhibition. Researchers have discovered a number of proteins that are essential for angiogenesis—their expression creates the conditions necessary for the building of new blood vessels.
Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) is a signaling protein involved in inflammation response; it promotes angiogenesis by triggering the secretion of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which helps form the blood vessels necessary for tissue repair, blood supply blockage, and injury recovery. This otherwise helpful mechanism is hijacked by cancer cells, which overexpress VEGF and use it to spread to other parts of the body. Studies demonstrate that turmeric inhibits the activity of both these proteins in cancer cells, as well as other inflammatory factors like COX-2 and nuclear factor-kappB.
Basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), urokinase plasminogen activator system (uPA), and matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) all work in conjunction to form new capillaries—bFGF encourages the migration of endothelial cells to the site of the new capillary, while uPA and MMP further allow for the growth and proliferation of these cells. Turmeric stops all of these proteins from aiding cancer cells by inhibiting the growth of endothelial cells, and by simply “switching off” their expression.
A word about using turmeric therapeutically
Turmeric shows great promise as a cancer treatment. If you or a loved one are interested in using it to treat cancer (or any other acute, severe illness), always do so under medical supervision, and don’t replace conventional treatment with turmeric or other natural remedies without consulting your doctor first.
For best results, be sure to work with a highly bioavailable, full-spectrum turmeric extract—raw root, powders, and even most curcumin extracts aren’t absorbable enough, and thus won’t provide your body with enough turmeric alkaloids to make a real difference.