Powdered turmeric is a common ingredient of Indian food and a substance that has been used for centuries to treat osteoarthritis and other illnesses. In March 2012 researchers from Michigan State University found that curcumin may be beneficial for people with Parkinson’s disease as well as head and neck cancers.

It is now thought that it might also be a valuable tool to fight the development of prostate cancer metastases. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, inhibits inflammatory reactions according to a new study by a research team at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich it can also inhibit formation of metastases.

This research team led by Dr. Beatrice Bachmeier at LMU Munich has been studying the mode of action of turmeric, a plant that has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, and is a major ingredient of curry. Bachmeier’s research centers on curcumin, the polyphenol responsible for the characteristic color of curry.

Curcumin is well tolerated by most people and is therefore suitable both for prophylactic use (primary prevention) and also for the suppression of metastases in cases where an established tumor is already present (secondary prevention).

Bachmeier and her colleagues, in a prior study, have demonstrated that tumeric statistically significantly reduces the formation of lung metastases in an animal model of advanced breast cancer.

This new study was designed to investigate the efficacy of curcumin in the prevention of prostate cancer metastases, and to determine the agent’s mechanism of action. The researchers first examined the molecular processes that are abnormally regulated in prostate carcinoma cells. Breast and prostate cancers are often associated with latent or chronic inflammatory reactions, and in both cases, the tumor cells were found to produce pro-inflammatory immunomodulators including the cytokines CXCL1 und CXCL2.

The researchers also showed that curcumin decreases the expression of these two pro-inflammatory immunomodulators in a mouse model and that this effect correlated with a decline in the incidence of metastases. “Due to the action of curcumin, the tumor cells synthesize smaller amounts of cytokines that promote metastasis,” says Bachmeier. “As a consequence, the frequency of metastasis formation in the lungs is significantly reduced, in animals with breast cancer, as we showed previously, or carcinoma of the prostate, as demonstrated in our new study.”

Bachmeier believes that curcumin may be useful in the prevention of breast and prostate cancers – which are both linked to inflammation – as well as reducing their metastatic potential. This would include both for men and woman prior to developing either breast or prostate cancer and for men and woman who have been diagnosed and are at risk of developing further metastatic disease (advanced prostate cancer).

Bachmeier was very clear and cautioned, “This does not mean that the compound should be seen as a replacement for conventional therapies. However, it could play a positive role in primary prevention – before a full-blown tumor arises – or help to avert formation of metastases. In this context the fact that the substance is well tolerated is very important, because one can safely recommend it to individuals who have an increased tumor risk.”

Bachmeier sees curcumin as a potentially valuable supplement to certain cancer therapies, including therapies fighting advanced prostate cancer. The researchers also believe that curcumin might also have beneficial qualities as a supplement for other cancers. A study carried out at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center showed that curcumin was beneficial for patients with head and neck cancers.

The next steps are to confirm curcumin’s beneficial effects in controlled clinical tests. Bachmeier is now planning such a trial in men who are dealing with advanced prostate cancer.

Traditional medicine has long used curcumin for its anti-inflammatory properties. A daily intake of up to 8g of curcumin is regarded as safe according to Dr. Bachmeier.

“Curcumin Inhibits Prostate Cancer Metastasis in vivo by Targeting the Inflammatory Cytokines CXCL1 and CXCL2”
Beatrice E. Bachmeier et al
Carcinogenesis (October 2012) doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgs312

Joel T Nowak, M.A., M.S.W.