Cancer News

Curcumin found to have protective effects against stomach cancer

Curcumin, the main bioactive compound in turmeric (Curcuma longa), can be utilized in the prevention and treatment of stomach cancer, according to a team of scientists from the Federal University of Sao Paulo (UNIFESP) and the Federal University of Para (UFPA) in Brazil.

Published in the journal Epigenomics, their findings underscored the cellular mechanisms behind curcumin’s beneficial effects against stomach cancer, one of the most diagnosed cancers across Central and South America and a leading cause of cancer-related death in Brazil.

Turmeric in traditional medicine

Turmeric, a bright golden spice endemic to Southeast Asia, is a popular ingredient in different cuisines and forms of traditional medicines around the globe.

In India, the largest consumer, producer and exporter of turmeric, the spice is regarded as an outstanding healing herb.

In fact, healers of traditional Indian medicine dating back millennia hold turmeric in high regard because of its therapeutic effects against ulcers, skin diseases, anemia, diabetes and rheumatism, among others.

In traditional Chinese medicine, turmeric is used to treat amenorrhea (the absence of menstrual periods), chronic inflammation and chronic pain in the chest and abdominal regions.

Turmeric is often used to make curries and spice blends. It is also sometimes steeped to make turmeric tea for treating gastrointestinal ailments and complications.

Centuries later, modern science has identified the constituents of turmeric thought to be behind its numerous health benefits and medicinal uses.

One such constituent is curcumin. Extensive in vitro and in vivo research over the past couple of decades has indicated that curcumin is a potent natural medicine for treating a range of infections and diseases. (Related: The science behind curcumin’s healing properties.)

For starters, curcumin has demonstrated antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal properties in the past, among others. Clinical studies also suggest that curcumin might be beneficial in treating different kinds of cancer, including cancers of the breast, lungs and stomach.

Curcumin is a natural regulator of histone modifications

For their research, the team from UNIFESP and UFPA assessed existing scientific literature on nutrients and compounds that can help treat stomach cancer and found that curcumin is one of them.

First author Danielle Calcagno affirmed that curcumin and other compounds, including cholecalciferol (vitamin D3), quercetin and resveratrol, are all capable of protecting against stomach cancer and stalling its progression because of their histone-regulating capacities.

Histones are proteins found in a cell’s nucleus that pack deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecules into structural, compact units called nucleosomes to help them fit better inside the nucleus. Once inside, this histone and DNA combination is packaged as chromatin.

In stomach cancer patients, the team found that their cells expressed abnormal histone modifications unlike those found in healthy human subjects. Past studies suggest that aberrations in histone modifications can indicate a premature diagnosis of colorectal cancer.

Interestingly, these aberrant histone modifications affect gene expression, but not DNA. Scientists refer to this as epigenetic changes. In a nutshell, epigenetic changes indicate modifications that do not change the DNA sequence itself but end up affecting the entire gene.

Calcagno explained that these epigenetic changes are behind the onset and progression of different cancers, including stomach cancer.

That being said, the team also found studies that affirm certain nutrients and compounds, curcumin included, are capable of regulating histone functions to keep them from causing cancer.

In particular, curcumin is able to suppress the proliferation of cancer cells and induce programmed cell death to keep cancer cells from aggregating into tumors.

Based on these findings, the researchers thus concluded that curcumin is a potent compound capable of fighting stomach cancer and stalling its progression.

Calcagno hopes that the team can also explore the potential anticancer properties of other plant compounds in the future, such as those found in nanche (Byrsonima crassifolia) and acai palm (Euterpe oleracea), in pursuit of safe treatments for stomach cancer.

Learn more about the health benefits and medicinal uses of curcumin at

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