What Are Cytokines?


Why are cytokines produced?

Cytokines are small proteins that almost all cells (especially epithelial and endothelial cells) can produce in response to some stimulus. Injured, infected, or diseased tissue cells secrete chemokine types of cytokines. 

Pro-inflammatory cytokines are crucial to the immune system response. When properly regulated, they help the body recover.

What do they do?

Cytokines act as signaling molecules between cells. They help organize the immune system response to anything that knocks the body out of balance – including wounds, chemical toxins, microbes, heart attacks, and even disease conditions such as those found in cancer and brain disorders. 

Chemokines are also cytokines but have a different function. They act as signaling beacons so that immune system cells (such as neutrophils) can locate and help the cells that need them.

What happens if cytokines are unregulated?

When the immune system response becomes dysfunctional, over-production of cytokines contributes to disease development and progression. Chronic inflammation and diseases associated with unhealthy inflammatory responses leads to even more unregulated cytokine production. 

Cytokines can also interfere with therapy for a disease, making the treatment less effective (e.g. radiation therapy for cancer).


Research indicates that the turmeric compound curcumin helps regulate cytokine production. Lab, animal, and human studies show it blocks the abnormal production of cytokines. This could help prevent or treat the conditions both caused and associated with chronic inflammation. Some of these include: 

  • Counteracting cancer resistance to radiotherapy and increasing its effectiveness. 
  • Safely reducing brain inflammation and inhibiting the abnormal immune response in encephalomyelitis and multiple sclerosis.
  • Preventing development or progression of cancer. 
  • Reducing carcinogenic inflammatory changes and free radical damage from cigarette smoke in the lungs. 
  • Lowering risk of asthma attacks. 
  • Protecting brain neurons from damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and strokes. 
  • Regulating blood sugar metabolism
  • Preventing or treating metabolic syndrome conditions (such as diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, obesity, and heart disease).
  • Reducing symptoms of depression, psychological stress, and fatigue.