Curcumin and angiogenesis

December 28th 2007 post: A blog reader (thank you!) recently sent me the link to an article (see: about a study (see abstract:  published in the October 24 2007 issue of the “Journal of Cellular Physiology.” The study is titled “Opposing effects of curcuminoids on serum stimulated and unstimulated angiogenic response.” In a nutshell, a group of researchers from the University of Kerala, India, discovered that curcumin promotes the formation of blood vessels in HEALTHY cells. This may not sound so amazing, but it really IS, when you think about it, because their finding confirms the fact that curcumin has the ability to distinguish between healthy and cancerous cells. Curcumin provides a supply of blood to normal cells whenever they need it but cuts off that same supply to nasty cancer cells. This may appear to be contradictory, but the Kerala researchers, as we will see, may have found an explanation. And their finding may be important not only for the treatment of cancer but also of ischemic conditions where there is a shortage in blood supply and, consequently, of oxygen.

The Kerala study (the full text was sent to me by another blog reader, thanks!) begins with an explanation of angiogenesis, which “is the formation of new blood vessels from preexisting vessels. […] Physiologically, it plays an important role in wound healing and ovulation. Nevertheless, uncontrolled angiogenesis results in many pathological conditions.” Indeed!

Curcumin applied to wounds caused by radiation has strong healing properties. An interesting aside: while I was doing research for this part of the post, I came upon a 2007 study (  showing that curcumin has both radioprotective AND radiosensitizing properties. How about THAT? So curcumin will protect our healthy cells from the harmful effects of radiation while enhancing the murderous effects of radiation on cancer cells. At the exact same time! Extraordinary. That is why it might be very useful in the radiotherapy treatment of cancer, the study suggests. Well, I already knew about the radioprotective effects of curcumin, and now in fact I am not at all nervous about having my annual skeletal exam, but not the radiosensitizing effects. Curcumin never ceases to amaze me!

A 1999 study (see abstract: showed that curcumin both when taken orally and applied topically improved wound healing in diabetic rats and mice.

The above-mentioned Kerala researchers point out that it seemed contradictory for curcumin to have wound healing properties when it is also has these anti-angiogenic properties. So they focused on the cellular microenvironment to see if it had “any effect on the angiogenic potential of curcuminoids.” Well, it does. This was a difficult, very technical study for me to read (the abstract will give you an idea…), but the following is more or less clear: curcuminoids stimulated the expression of proangiogenic factors when there was no extracellular stimulation (of an angiogenic response) by serum or proangiogenic growth factors, whereas, in the presence of those stimuli, curcuminoids appeared to be anti-angiogenic. Okay, perhaps this is not clear at all, now that I reread it! Well, basically, depending on the presence or absence of serum or certain growth factors, curcuminoids help normal cells live happily ever after, but they can also kill cancer cells by cutting off their blood supply.

This study gives us another example of the wonderful dual nature of curcumin, able to distinguish between the good and the bad guys. Yeah!

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