Curcumin: Its Role in HPV and Cervical Health
Curcumin, a polyphenol of Curcuma longa, is one of the most widely known natural remedies and one most of us use regularly. However, you may not know that curcumin is the focus of recent (and ongoing) studies for cervical dysplasia due to its ability to target cells at high risk of developing into cervical cancer.
Each year, cervical cancer affects thousands of women, with most cancers originating from a persistent infection of certain strains of HPV in cervical cells.1 While HPV is pervasive in society (almost all men and women contract at least one type during their lives), the infection can often be cleared by the immune system in both men and women. Currently, there is no conventional treatment for cervical HPV, specifically to proactively prevent progression to cancer. Instead, the cervix is monitored over time and surgical procedures are utilized if the virus becomes too invasive. Luckily, there have been some exciting new studies looking at the positive effect curcumin has on the process of inhibiting HPV and cervical cancer cells.
For HPV to become carcinogenic in cervical cells, a needed requirement is for the expression of oncogenes E6 and E7 and subsequent reduction of the tumor suppressor gene p53.2,3 Studies have shown that curcumin can actually inhibit E6 and E7 oncogenes, even as early as six hours post-treatment as well as restore the expression of p53 and other mechanisms to prevent tumorigenesis.4
A study involving four HPV(+) cell lines showed that curcumin could eliminate HPV in all of them. This same study went on to create a vaginal cream using curcumin, which was introduced to mice and showed the same ability for curcumin to eliminate HPV+ cells, while not affecting any of the surrounding normal tissue.5 Studies have taken into account curcumin’s limited bioavailability and have created intra-vaginal forms of curcumin to best attack cervical dysplasia. A study in India used a combination of curcumin plus other herbs in a topical vaginal cream, which showed a higher clearance of HPV compared to placebo. Curcumin alone had a higher clearance rate than placebo, but it was not clinically significant.6 More recently, a nanoparticle form of curcumin was developed and it performed better at inhibiting cell growth and inducing apoptosis in cervical cancer cell lines than free curcumin.7 A phase-1 study has demonstrated that intravaginal curcumin for women with cervical dysplasia is considered safe.8
As curcumin is being studied more and more for its amazing abilities, watch for future research on this ingredient and its effect on HPV.
Meredith Murray, ND
Dr. Meredith Murray is a practicing naturopathic doctor and the newest member of the Medical Education team at Emerson Ecologics. She sees patients in New Hampshire, focusing on digestive disorders.
- CDC. HPV-Associated cancer statistics. Center for Disease Control and Prevention: HPV and Cancer. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/statistics/. Accessed February 16, 2017.
- zur Hausen H. Papillomaviruses and cancer: From basic studies to clinical application. Nature Reviews Cancer. 2002;2(5):342–350. doi:10.1038/nrc798.
- Mishra A, Das BC. Curcumin as an anti-human papillomavirus and anti-cancer compound. Future Oncology. 2015;11(18):2487–2490. doi:10.2217/fon.15.166.
- Maher DM, Bell MC, O’Donnell EA, Gupta BK, Jaggi M, Chauhan SC. Curcumin suppresses human papillomavirus oncoproteins, restores p53, Rb, and PTPN13 proteins and inhibits benzo [a] pyreneinduced up regulation of HPV E7. Mol. Carcinog. 50, 47–57 (2011).
- Debata PR, Castellanos MR, Fata JE, et al. A novel curcumin-based vaginal cream Vacurin selectively eliminates apposed human cervical cancer cells. Gynecologic Oncology. 2013; 129(1):145–153. doi:10.1016/j.ygyno.2012.12.005.
- Basu P, Dutta S, Begum R, et al. Clearance of cervical human Papillomavirus infection by topical application of Curcumin and Curcumin containing Polyherbal cream: A phase II Randomized controlled study. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention. 2013;14(10):5753–5759. doi:10.7314/apjcp.2013.14.10.5753.
- Zaman MS, Chauhan N, Yallapu MM, et al. Curcumin Nanoformulation for cervical cancer treatment. Scientific Reports. 2016;6:20051. doi:10.1038/srep20051.
- Press D, Gattoc L, Frew PM, et al. Phase I dose-escalation trial of intravaginal curcumin in women for ce | OAJCT. Open Access Journal of Clinical Trials. 2016;Volume 9:1–10. doi:10.2147/OAJCT.S105010.