The Journal of Cancer has published a study revealing the therapeutic effects of two antioxidant compounds when combined to fight colon cancer.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, already known for its anti-inflammatory properties, whereas silymarin, a component of milk thistle, has been used to treat liver disease. In laboratory tests, researchers from Saint-Louis University in the USA found that colon cancer cells stopped multiplying and spreading, and that cell death increased when exposed to the two natural compounds.
When exposing colon cancer cell cultures to curcumin — the polyphenol that gives curry dishes their bright yellow colour — then to silymarin, found in the milk thistle plant, researchers from Saint Louis University saw beneficial effects from this pair of natural extracts. The scientists found that the combination of these two natural compounds stopped the multiplication of cancer cells and increased cell death.
Several previous studies have highlighted beneficial properties of curcumin, such as its anti-inflammatory nature, its ability to lower triglyceride levels or its capacity to boost cognitive health by combatting the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The compound’s anti-cancer properties have previously been observed in breast cancer and prostate cancer research.
Silymarin is a component of milk thistle — a plant of the Asteraceae family — which is beneficial to the liver. In 1989, the European Commission approved the use of a standardised concentration of 70-80% of silymarin in the treatment of toxic liver damage and for supportive treatment in chronic inflammatory liver disease and hepatic cirrhosis. In 2002, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised similar uses.
The scientists’ discovery reveals a promising alternative approach to standard colon cancer treatments, avoiding problems with toxicity and side effects. However, this in vitro study remains preliminary in nature. Further animal and human testing is required, notably to adjust formulations and doses, as curcumin and silymarin concentrations that are too high could be harmful.