Curcumin, the natural pigment that gives the spice turmeric its yellow color, has come under the scientific spotlight in recent years, with studies investigating its cancer-fighting abilities .
Researchers say they have already obtained data indicating that curcumin can block a key protein associated with esophageal cancer, known as NF-kappaB and they term their recent discovery as " a shot in the arm for research," thus saying that by identifying ways to suppress NF-kappaB activity, their ultimate aim is to be able to block GI-tract cancer development.
A funding to the tune of ₤11,000 has been granted in order to facilitate a pilot study investigating the effects of curcumin in lowering the NF-kappaB levels in patients suffering from Barrett's esophagus, a pre-malignant form of esophageal cancer that leads to the full-blown disease in around ten percent of cases.
Barrett's esophagus is caused by acid reflux, and although it can occur early in life, most sufferers are in their 40s and 50s. Another feature is that 90 percent of patients never develops into cancer.There are surgical and pharmaceutical ways to reduce acid reflux, but no firm link has been made between Barrett's esophagus and esophagal cancer.
The study will involve 40 to 50 patients with Barrett's esophagus, who will take curcumin supplements for just a few days. Between five and seven days later, their NF-kappa-B levels will be measured by an endoscopy and compared with those of a control group. The curcumin dosage used is likely to be 500g tablets, since these are readily available from health food stores.
Researchers say they don't expect long lasting effects in these participating patients from taking curcumin for just a few days," however they say that if their results are very promising it may be appropriate to a larger study over a few years.
Other recent research into the curcumin's anti-cancer effects has found that it inhibits melanoma cell growth and kills tumor cells. Researchers at the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Texas has reported that curcumin helped stop the spread of breast cancer tumor cells to the lungs in a mice trial