Plant Compounds Slow Colon Cancer Spread

Compounds found in turmeric and milk thistle inhibit the spread of cancer cells.

The phytochemicals curcumin and silymarin are more effective fighting colon cancer than either of the plant compounds used alone, a recent study found.

Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, which is usually found in spicy curry dishes, and silymarin is a component of milk thistle, which is used to treat liver disease. In the study, researchers examined colon cancer cells in a laboratory model.

The findings published in the Journal of Cancer, showed that treating cancerous cells with a combination of curcumin, followed by silymarin, was more effective treating cancer compared with either of the compounds used alone.

“The combination of phytochemicals inhibited colon cancer cells from multiplying and spreading,” said corresponding study author Uthayashanker Ezekiel, PhD. “In addition, when the colon cancer cells were pre-exposed to curcumin and then treated with silymarin, the cells underwent a high amount of cell death.”

The findings suggest that the combination therapy approach may be beneficial in the treatment of colon cancer.

“Phytochemicals may offer alternative therapeutic approaches to cancer treatments and avoid toxicity problems and side effects that chemotherapy can cause,” Ezekiel said.

The authors noted, however, that the research is a preliminary cell study, and that more research is needed before scientists can confirm that the compounds are an effective treatment for patients with colon cancer. Next steps will involve scientists studying how curcumin and silymarin impact the actions of molecules that cause cells to change, followed by the compounds being examined in animal models and in humans.

“Concentrations of curcumin and silymarin that are too high could be harmful to people,” Ezekiel said. “We still have much to learn, and for now, it’s so much safer to add a little spice to your diet and get your curcumin from foods that contain turmeric, such as curry, rather than taking high doses of the compound.”