HomeENGLISH MAGAZINETurmeric: "way to go" for stomach cancer, say scientists

Turmeric: “way to go” for stomach cancer, say scientists

Curcumin is widely used to impart color and flavor to food, but scientists have discovered that this yellow powder derived from the roots of the turmeric plant (Curcuma longa) can also help prevent or combat stomach cancer. The study by researchers at the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) and the Federal University of Pará (UFPA) in Brazil identified possible therapeutic effects of this pigment and of other bioactive compounds found in food on stomach cancer, the third and fifth most frequent type of cancer among Brazilian men and women, respectively. Dr Danielle Queiroz Calcagno, a professor at UFPA and first author of the study, explained: “We undertook a vast review of the scientific literature on all nutrients and bioactive compounds with the potential to prevent or treat stomach cancer and found that curcumin is one of them. According to our research, compounds such as cholecalciferol (a form of vitamin D), resveratrol (a polyphenol) and quercetin can prevent or combat stomach cancer because they are natural regulators of histone activity”. Histones are proteins in cell nuclei that organize the DNA double helix into structural units called nucleosomes. Each nucleosome is made of DNA coiled like a spool around eight histone proteins (a histone octamer) to compact the DNA so that it fits in the cell, where it is packaged into chromatin.

Post-translational chemical modification of the amino acid chain in these proteins, such as acetylation (introduction of an acetyl group) or methylation (addition of a methyl group), can affect chromatin compaction and hence gene expression. If the histones are acetylated, for example, the chromatin will be less condensed, and a gene in a region of the DNA segment inside it will be available to be expressed. In contrast, if the histones aren’t acetylated, the chromatin will be more condensed, and the gene won’t be expressed. Research conducted in recent years has suggested that posttranslational histone modification causes alterations in gene expression without affecting the DNA sequence. These epigenetic variations influence the development of different types of cancer. To determine whether this hypothesis also applied to stomach cancer, several groups of researchers coordinated by professor Marília de Arruda Cardoso Smith, studied histone acetylation patterns in stomach cell samples from healthy individuals and patients diagnosed with stomach cancer. The researchers found that the cells from stomach cancer patients displayed alterations in the pattern of expression of histone acetyltransferases (HATs) and histone deacetylases (HDACs). These alterations are epigenetic and affect the structure and integrity of the genome in many tumors, including stomach cancer.

Because recent research has also shown that nutrients and bioactive compounds can regulate the activity of HATs and HDACs, the scientists at UNIFESP and UFPA set out to identify any that might influence histone acetylation and hence help prevent stomach cancer or even treat the disease. In addition to curcumin, other compounds found to play a key role in modulating histone activity were vitamin D, resveratrol (tipically present in red wine), quercetin (abundant in apples, broccoli and onions), garcinol (isolated from the bark of the kokum tree, Garcinia indica), and sodium butyrate (produced by gut bacteria from dietary fiber). These compounds can favor the activation or repression of genes involved in the development of stomach cancer by promoting or inhibiting histone acetylation. Curcumin, for example, influences histone modifications primarily by inhibiting HATs and HDACs to suppress cancer cell proliferation and induce apoptosis (programmed cell death). It is known that it can interfere directly with some transcription factors like NF-kB and AP-1, both able to control inflammatory responses and proliferation in cancer cells. Garcinol, whose chemical structure differs from curcumin, inhibits HATs and helps prevent stomach cancer by neutralizing free radicals.

Researchers now plan to clarify the anticancer and epigenetic effects of bioactive compounds derived from plants in the Amazon, such as açaí [Euterpe oleracea] and nanche or hogberry [Byrsonima crassifolia], with a view to their future use in the prevention and treatment of stomach cancer. Their study was part of a Thematic Project supported by São Paulo Research Foundation – FAPESP. Its findings have been now published in the journal Epigenomics.

  • Edited by Dr. Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry.

Scientific references

Kwiecien S et al. Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Mar 24; 20(6).

Jung EB et al. J Ethnopharmacol. 2018 Mar 1; 213:48-55. 

Wang XP et al. Food Funct. 2017 Sep 20;8(9):3319-3326. 

Dott. Gianfrancesco Cormaci
- Laurea in Medicina e Chirurgia nel 1998 (MD Degree in 1998) - Specialista in Biochimica Clinica nel 2002 (Clinical Biochemistry residency in 2002) - Dottorato in Neurobiologia nel 2006 (Neurobiology PhD in 2006) - Ha soggiornato negli Stati Uniti, Baltimora (MD) come ricercatore alle dipendenze del National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA/NIH) e poi alla Johns Hopkins University, dal 2004 al 2008. - Dal 2009 si occupa di Medicina personalizzata. - Guardia medica presso strutture private dal 2010 - Detentore di due brevetti sulla preparazione di prodotti gluten-free a partire da regolare farina di frumento immunologicamente neutralizzata (owner of patents concerning the production of bakery gluten-free products, starting from regular wheat flour). - Responsabile del reparto Ricerca e Sviluppo per la società CoFood s.r.l. (leader of the R&D for the partnership CoFood s.r.l.) - Autore di un libro riguardante la salute e l'alimentazione, con approfondimenti su come questa condizioni tutti i sistemi corporei. - Autore di articoli su informazione medica e salute sui siti web salutesicilia.com, medicomunicare.it e in lingua inglese sul sito www.medicomunicare.com
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