Turmeric gives its distinctive yellow colour to the type of curry we always ate at home. All these years later, it’s a bit of a surprise to learn that turmeric has healing properties. From the Sept. 13, 2011 news item on MedicalXpress.com,
Curcumin, the main component in the spice turmeric, suppresses a cell signaling pathway that drives the growth of head and neck cancer, according to a pilot study using human saliva by researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“This study shows that curcumin can work in the mouths of patients with head and neck malignancies and reduce activities that promote cancer growth,” Wang [Dr. Marilene Wang, senior author and professor of head and neck surgery] said. “And it not only affected the cancer by inhibiting a critical cell signaling pathway, it also affected the saliva itself by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines within the saliva.”
Unfortunately, the amounts used in cooking are not sufficient for a cancer inhibiting effect,
To be effective in fighting cancer, the curcumin must be used in supplement form. Although turmeric is used in cooking, the amount of curcumin needed to produce a clinical response is much larger. Expecting a positive effect through eating foods spiced with turmeric is not realistic, Wang said.
There is a bit of a downside to the type of supplement they used in this study,
The curcumin was well tolerated by the patients and resulted in no toxic effects. The biggest problem was their mouths and teeth turned bright yellow.
As you might expect, the next study will be for a longer period,
The next step for Wang and her team is to treat patients with curcumin for longer periods of time to see if the inhibitory effects can be increased. They plan to treat cancer patients scheduled for surgery for a few weeks prior to their procedure. They’ll take a biopsy before the curcumin is started and then at the time of surgery and analyze the tissue to look for differences.
“There’s potential here for the development of curcumin as an adjuvant treatment for cancer,” Wang said. “It’s not toxic, well tolerated, cheap and easily obtained in any health food store. While this is a promising pilot study, it’s important to expand our work to more patients to confirm our findings.”
There have been two feature articles on Nanowerk about curcumin, its healing properties, which extend beyond treating head and neck cancer, and patents during fall 2011. From the Sept. 8, 2011 article, Nanotechnology-enhanced curcumin: Symbiosis of ancient wisdom of the East with modern medical science [Note: I have removed citation notes],
Turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) is the shining star among the cornucopia of traditional medicinal plants. It has a long history of usage in traditional medicine in India and China. Ancient Indians have known the medicinal properties of turmeric, thus curcumin, for several millennia.
The cultivation of turmeric plants began in Harappan civilization in 3000 BC and Susruta Samhita, dating back to 250 BC, highly recommends use of an ointment based on turmeric for relieving food poisoning effect. Turmeric was introduced to China from India by 700 A.D. and has been said to be long used as a medicinal herb. It has been used in Ayurvedic medicines internally as a stomach tonic and blood purifier, and topically in the prevention and treatment of skin diseases.
In the scientific literature there is a large body of evidence showing that curcuminoids exhibit a broad spectrum of biological and pharmacological activities including anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, anti-mutagen, anti-cancer and detox properties. Curcumin’s unique ability to work through so many different pathways with its extraordinary antioxidant and anti-inflammatory attributes can have a positive influence in combating almost every known disease.
Extensive studies carried out by researchers around the globe have clearly demonstrated curcumin’s great potential as a thercurcuminapeutic agent, and have paved the way towards conducting clinical trials for a variety of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular, neurological and gastrointestinal disorders, multiple sclerosis, diabetes type II, skin diseases, cystic fibrosis, cataract etc. [Note: There is also an extensive discussion of cancer treatment included in this article.]
Here are the active components (as understood by scientists currently),
The bio-active polyphenol component of turmeric is curcumin, also known as diferuloylmethane (C21H20O6), with an ability to prevent and cure diseases. Turmeric contains about 2-5% curcumin alone. Commercial curcumin contains three main types of curcuminoids, i.e., curcumin (diferuloylmethane or”Curcumin I” about 77%), demethoxy curcumin (“Curcumin II” ∼17%) and bis demethoxy curcumin (“Curcumin III” ∼3%)). Curcumin (diferuloylmethane renders its bright yellow color to turmeric. In addition to natural curcumin, several analogues of curcumin have been synthesized and studied. These include tetrahydrocurcumin (antioxidative), 4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzoic acid methyl ester (HMBME), aromatic enone and dienone analogues, metal chelates of synthetic curcuminoids etc.
There has already been one court case regarding a curcumin patent,
Recently, turmeric came into the global limelight when the controversial patent “Use of Turmeric in Wound Healing” was awarded, in 1995, to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, USA. Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) aggressively contested this award of the patent. It was argued by them that turmeric has been an integral part of the traditional Indian medicinal system over several centuries, and therefore, is deemed to be ‘prior art’, hence is in the public domain. Subsequently, after protracted technical/legal battle USPTO decreed that turmeric is an Indian discovery and revoked the patent.
I wonder if this will set a precedent for other herbs and plants that are associated with specific cultures or indigenous groups as part of their healing tradition. Much of our modern pharamcopoeia is derived from traditional healing plants and the people who shared that knowledge have not shared in the benefits that large pharmaceutical companies have reaped.
Back to the curcumin and the issue of low bioavailability (in Wang’s study mentioned earlier, patients were given 2 tablets totaling 1000 miligrams of curcumin and it seems that was done once),
In practice, only very low or undetectable levels of curcumin can be achieved in blood by oral administration of curcumin. The low bioavailability of curcumin has been attributed to its very low aqueous solubility, tendency to degrade in the gastroinenstinal tract in the physiological environment, high rate of metabolism, and rapid systemic elimination. The low bioavailability of curcumin has so far limited its medical use. It has been suggested that a person is required to consume large doses (about 12-20g/day) of curcumin in order to achieve its therapeutic effects on the human body. That means one has to swallow 24 to 40 curcumin capsules of 500mg each. These doses are considered to be too high, and therefore, not feasible to be incorporated in clinical trials due to unbearable after-taste to the palate, possibility of giving rise to nauseatic feeling and perceived toxicity issues.
Therefore, to achieve the maximum response of this potentially useful chemopreventive agent, a number of approaches such as the use of adjuvants like piperine, synthetic analogues, chelating of curcumin with metals, combination with other dietary agents etc. have been investigated. Nanotechnology-based novel strategies are being aggressively explored worldwide to enhance curcumin’s bioavailability and reduce perceived toxicity as they offer several other additional benefits such as improved cellular uptake, enhanced dissolution rates, excellent blood stability, controlled release functions, multifunctional design, enhancement in its pharmacological activities (e.g. antioxidant and antihepatoma activities) etc.
This article and the Dec. 22, 2011 article, Nanotechnology-enhanced curcumin – literature and patent analysis, on Nanowerk were both written by Dr. Yashwant Mahajan (by himself for the Sept. 8 article and with Ratnesh Kumar Gaur for the Dec. 22 article), Centre for Knowledge Management of Nanoscience and Technology (CKMNT). There is more detail about the nanotechnology-based strategies to increase bioavailability in the Dec. 22, 1011 article,
These approaches include solid-lipid nanoparticles, nanosuspension, nanoemulsion, cyclodextrin curcumin self assembly, hydrogel nanoparticles, curcumin-phospholipid complex and curcumin incorporated within polymer nanoparticles. The figure below shows these various nano-based approaches for drug delivery of curcumin in the form of a pie chart and this survey is based on 124 relevant patents for the period from 2001 to 2010. As depicted in this pie chart [in the article on Nanowerk] polymer nanoparticles play a dominant role (34%) followed by curcumin nanoemulsion (20%), nanosuspension (13%), phospholipids complex (12%), cyclodextrin curcumin self-assembly, hydrogel NPs and SLNs in decreasing order. The polymer nanoparticles-incorporated drug delivery systems are further subdivided into various classes of polymers such as generic polymers, liposomal, PEG, micelle, PLGA, and as can be seen, generic polymers, liposomal, PEG and micelle play a dominant role in decreasing order.
Curcumin is still being patented but it seems the focus on delivering curcumin more efficiently for therapeutic use,
The analysis reveals that Laila Pharmaceuticals Private Ltd., Chennai, India is the world leader with 8 patent applications to their credit and their main focus is on nanoemulsification of curcumin and its derivatives. Second in the ranking are Johns Hopkins University, USA, and University of North Texas, USA with 7 patent applications each to their credit and their inventions are directed towards use of polymer nanoparticle encapsulated curcumin and curcumin loaded with PLGA-nanoparticles, respectively. The analysis has also revealed that R&D institutes, universities and only a few small bio and pharma companies such as Laila Pharmaceuticals, Magforce Nanotechnologies, Bioderm Research, Nano Cutting Edge Technologies etc. are involved in the patenting activity.
I did check out the Centre for Knowledge Management of Nanoscience and Technology (CKMNT) where Dr. Mahajan works and which was launched in 2009. From the About Us page,
CKMNT was launched on 1st April 2009 at Hyderabad by the International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials (ARCI) as one of its project centres. The centre has been set up to foster the exchange and dissemination of advanced technological knowledge and expertise to meet the needs of the nanoresearchers, industry, policy makers, financial institutions and venture capitalists. CKMNT has been partially funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Govt. of India in a project mode and would help in fulfilling the objectives of the Nano Mission of DST.
The Centre’s team is made up of metallurgy and chemical engineering experts, none of whom seem to have worked in medicine or health care, which makes this interest in turmeric a little surprising.