Curcumin’s differential effects on healthy vs. cancer cells may be due to its interaction with metals
One of the most intriguing findings of the modern scientific research of herbal medicine is the finding that plants’ actions may vary depending on the condition of the organism. For example, Echinacea will stimulate the immune system in the condition of the disease, but tone down the pro-inflammatory effect (hence the term “immunomodulators”). Compounds from American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) will kill cancer cells but “not touch” normal cells. Similarly, curcumin is known for its differential activity towards healthy vs. cancer cells.
The “magical” interaction of curcumin with metals
This fascinating article points to the theory that such differential action might be due to the interactions between the plant substances and metals. Apparently, it is a well-known fact that many disease sites (especially those of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease) are associated with increased concentrations of certain metals – called transition metals, such as copper, zinc, and iron. This is the property that curcumin seems to interact with: In the normal cellular environment, it acts as an antioxidant; while surrounded by high levels of metals in a different-than-normal oxidation state, it turns into a rabid reactive oxygen species producer.
The ancients may have been on to something!
This leads to some interesting conlusions: First of all, the rishi, to whom the origins of Ayurvedic medicine are usually ascribed, may have been onto something with their use of metals in Ayurvedic formulas. Could they have discovered – empricially or otherwise – that metals interact with herbs’ activities in some way?
And also, this makes me amazed once again at the time we are living in: that of the crossroads of traditional knowledge and modern science.
- Turmeric: The Spice That Extends Life (herbanaut.wordpress.com)