It’s the main biologically active curcuminoid of Curcuma longa, which is part of the ginger family of herbs, native to southern and south-eastern Asia. Curcuma longa’s root and rhizome are crushed and powdered into the spice commonly known as turmeric, which contains about 5 to 8 % curcumin. The use of turmeric as a medicine and condiment is recorded as far back as 600 BC. In the 13th century, Marco Polo wrote a description of turmeric, which he saw and tasted while travelling in China. He described it as “a vegetable with the properties of saffron, yet it is not really saffron.”
As I read in one of Prof. Aggarwal’s presentations, traditional Indian medicine uses turmeric for biliary disorders, anorexia, coughs, diabetic wounds, hepatic disorders, rheumatism, and sinusitis. Turmeric powder mixed with slaked lime is a folk remedy for sprains and swelling. In the U.S., curcumin (labelled as E100) is used to colour cheeses, spices, mustard, cereals, pickles, ice-cream and other foods.
There seems to be no end to the powers of curcumin. It has antitumour, antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-amyloid and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as beneficial effects on arthritis, allergy, asthma, atherosclerosis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer. Curcumin is effective against a variety of cancers, so, if you have cancer, check to see if there are any studies on this polyphenol and your particular type of cancer. A few months ago, someone wrote me an e-mail, asking if curcumin had any effect on head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. To my surprise, I found a 2005 study on HNSCC growth in Clinical Cancer Research. The beauty of curcumin is that it attacks only malignant cells, leaving healthy ones alone; it also has no toxic side effects. Note of caution: always consult your oncologist first.
If you cut yourself, dab some curcumin on the wound and it will heal faster (you might turn a bit orange–I have experienced that in person!–so be careful not to dab it on your face; don’t forget that turmeric is used as a commercial dye in Indian textile industries!). Got a sore throat? Drink some turmeric tea. High cholesterol, memory loss, blood-clotting problems, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, constipation, high blood pressure, etc. etc. etc.?
The remedy is simple: curcumin.
For the more scientifically-minded. Curcumin has the ability to suppress proliferation of a wide variety of tumour cells. Among its many mechanisms of action, it down-regulates the transcription factors NF-kappa B, AP-1 and Egr-1, as well as the expression of COX2, LOX, NOS, MMP-9 (matrix metalloproteinase 9, found in many types of cancer), uPA (urokinase plasminogen activator, it promotes tumor invasion and metastasis in several malignancies including prostate cancer), TNF, chemokines, cell surface adhesion molecules and cyclin D1 (see http://tinyurl.com/354rq3 for more information on the overexpression of cyclin D1 in cancer). It also down-regulates growth factor receptors (such as EGFR and HER2), and inhibits the activity of the c-Jun N-terminal kinase, protein tyrosine kinases and protein serine/threonine kinases (kinases, a class of enzymes, are activated in cancer cells).