Curcumin, Piperine Limit Breast Stem Cell Growth

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Curcumin, which is derived from turmeric, and a black pepper derivative called piperine may help prevent breast cancer by limiting breast stem cell growth. Breast stem cells are those that fuel breast tumor growth.

Cancer stem cells are believed to be the main targets in the cause of breast cancer, and therefore treatment that impacts these cells is desirable. However, current chemotherapy efforts are not effective against these cells, which is why cancer recurs and metastasizes (spreads beyond its original site). Scientists believe that eliminating cancer stem cells, as well as decreasing the number of normal stem cells, can help control and reduce the risk of cancer.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center prepared a solution of curcumin and piperine that was approximately 20 times the potency of what individuals would consume through diet and administered it to cell cultures. They then tested the cells and looked for markers for breast stem cells and how the spices, both individually and combined, impacted stem cell levels.

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The investigators found that piperine enhanced the effects of curcumin and that the mixture interrupted the renewal process that is characteristic of cancer-initiating stem cells but had not impact on normal differentiated cells, which indicated that these compounds are not harmful to normal breast tissue.

This study is the first to indicate that curcumin and piperine may prevent breast cancer by targeting stem cells. Given the high prevalence of breast cancer, this line of research is critically important. According to the American Cancer Society, 194,280 Americans will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and 40,610 will die from the disease.

According to Madhuri Kakarala, MD, PhD, RD, clinical lecturer in internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School and a research investigator at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, if scientists “can limit the number of stem cells, we can limit the number of cells with potential to form tumors.” This study indicates that curcumin and piperine are not toxic to normal breast tissue, an important factor given that women at high risk of breast cancer now are offered two drugs, tamoxifen and raloxifene, which have toxic properties. The study’s authors warn, however, that although curcumin and piperine are available in capsule form at the potency used in this trial, this combination has not been tested in humans and so individuals are not encouraged to add these supplements to their diet at this time.

SOURCES:
American Cancer Society
University of Michigan Health System, news release, Dec. 8, 2009

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