Number September 1991


Professional Review


Turmeric — The Spice of Life Part 2
Part 1 of this article in the August issue discussed the antiinflammatory effects of Turmeric. Part 2 continues with the discussion of effects of Turmeric on the digestive tract.

Effect on Gastric Function
Oral doses of 0.5g/kg of an ethanolic extract of turmeric produced significant protection against ulceration caused by stress, pyloric ligation, indomethacin and reserpine in rats.37 Turmeric extract increased gastric wall mucus production and also enhanced its cytoprotective quality.

Hepatoprotective Action
After finding a protective effect for turmeric extract against carbon tetrachloride-induced hepatotoxicity in mice, various constituents of turmeric were found to have in vitro hepatoprotective activity.38

Antibacterial and Antifungal Activity
An alcoholic extract of turmeric, its essential oil and curcumin weakly inhibited the growth of Gram-positive bacteria in vitro.39 An interesting recent discovery is that low concentrations of curcumin are highly toxic to Salmonella in the presence of visible light.40 This phototoxic effect was thought to be due to unstable intermediates, probably radicals formed during the irradiation. Since an E coli strain with DNA repair capacity was largely resistant to curcumin phototoxicity, this implies that light in combination with curcumin is genotoxic and may be mutagenic.

Curcumin and aqueous extract of turmeric protected against DNA damage in human lymphocytes induced by fuel smoke condensate.43 However curcumin feeding did not inhibit BAP-induced nuclear damage to murine intestinal cells in vivo.44 In contrast, turmeric at 1% in the diet of mice reduced BAP-induced stomach tumours and also reduced the incidence of spontaneous mammary tumours.45 Topically applied curcumin potently inhibited DNA synthesis and tumour promotion induced by 12-0tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate (TPA) in mouse skin.46 This effect parallels the inhibitory effect of curcumin on TPA-induced epidermal inflammation and also on epidermal lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase activities.12 In other words the inhibitory effect of curcumin on tumour promotion is related to its anti-inflammatory activity. Repeated applications of turmeric or curcumin in the promotion phase produced a significant reduction in mouse skin papillomas induced by DMBA followed by croton oil promotion.47 It has been recently demonstrated that turmeric increases the activity of the carcinogendetoxifying enzyme, glutathione-S-transferase in the stomach, liver and oesophagus of mice.48

Anti-tumour Activity
A turmeric extract prepared with 50% ethanol inhibited the cell growth of normal mammalian cells and was cytotoxic to lymphoma cells at a concentration of 0.4mg/mL.49 The active constituent was found to be curcumin which was cytotoxic to lymphoma cells at a concentration of 4µg/mL. Injections of both turmeric extract and curcumin reduced the development of tumours and enhanced survival in mice injected with lymphoma cells.49 Earlier work reported that a turmeric extract exhibited cytotoxicity to mammalian cells in vitro by arresting mitosis and altering chromosome morphology.50 A 50% ethanol extract of turmeric and an ointment containing curcumin produced symptomatic relief in patients with external cancerous lesions which had failed to respond to conventional treatments.51 There was a reduction in the odour of the lesions in 90% of cases and also reduction in itching and exudation. In a small number of patients (10%) the thickness of the lesion was reduced.

Cancer Prevention
Turmeric and curcumin possess anti-mutagenic and anti-promotion activities which are probably related to the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin. Curcumin showed a dose-dependent decrease in the in vitro mutagenicities of cayenne extract and capsaicin.41 This was comparable to the effect of known antioxidants such as vitamin E. In the presence of liver homogenate curcumin also inhibited the in vitro mutagenicity of tobacco smoke condensates, tobacco and benzo-α-pyrene (BAP) in a dose-dependent manner.42

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