Saturday, January 31, 2009

Spice up your life

Easily recognized and distinguished by its bright orange-yellow color, the spice turmeric is made from the root of curcuma longa, a member of the ginger family. Turmeric, as well as many curries with turmeric, contain a compound known as curcumin. Curcumin has a long history in eastern medicine, being employed in the treatment of an extremely broad range of ailments. A rapidly growing body of scientific evidence from both laboratory research and clinical settings is reinforcing this history. Curcumin exhibits anti-oxidant, anti-arthritic, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumorigenic activity in vitro and in animal models. A recent phase II clinical study published in ASCO, provides evidence that curcumin may enhance the chemotherapeutic efficacy of gemcitabine in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Keep in mind, this study involved advanced stage and metastatic pancreatic disease patients, who unfortunately suffer extremely poor prognosis. While this regimen may help and is very encouraging, it is by no means a cure for this disease. Another interesting study published recently in the scientific journal Cancer Research, presents data that curcumin represents a new class of mTORC (mammalian target of rapamycin complex) inhibitor. mTORC is a target of pharmaceutical companies due to its fundamental role in the cell. mTORC1, a member of the PI3K related-kinase family (PIKK) promotes cap-dependent mRNA translation and ribosome biogenesis, two absolutely fundamental processes used in all cells. Your probably asking yourself, wouldn’t this suggest that curcumin is bad for you and toxic? From a cancer treatment perspective, it is all about therapeutic index. The current basis of many cancer treatments without any other options, is to use anti-metabolites (such as the nucleoside analog gemcitabine mentioned above) that are more devastating to proliferating cells than non-proliferating cells, as cancerous cells are often proliferating at higher rates than most non-cancerous cells. Many “chemo” drugs are cytotoxic agents with narrow therapeutic windows; therefore compounds with considerably less toxicity that can widen this window are of great value and high priority.

In terms of your everyday diet, curcumin likely has many benefits. In fact a little research will yield an enormous amount of both substantiated and putative benefits of curcumin. Don’t be lead astray by its function at high concentrations in terminally ill cancer patients (8 grams orally per day in the above clinical trail) in combination with gemcitabine and at high concentrations in cell culture. Toxicity is a complete non-issue if used as a seasoning. Remember that many drink caffeinated beverages everyday while caffeine is a potent inhibitor of DNA repair. However, the concentrations of caffeine required to have this effect are not physiologically achievable by drinking caffeinated beverages. Just a little thought to illustrate the dosage concept, too often overlooked these days in my opinion (a complete blog post in and of itself really). Spice up some sautéed vegetables and cleanse the palate with some green tea. While you’re at it, transcend binary thought and balance the opposing forces of the universe! Cheers.

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