Turmeric is a common spice frequently used in Indian and Asian food. You’ll recognize it as the root that gives curry its punch and distinctive yellow color. That yellow pigment is derived from the compound curcumin. And it’s the curcumin, (Curcuma Longa) within the turmeric that has been widely used in Asian medicine for centuries to treat a variety of afflictions including, yes, cancer.
As a result, the turmeric root, similar in shape to ginger, has become one of the most researched spices within the scientific community. There is surmounting evidence, including several clinical studies, validating the direct relationship between turmeric and cancer, as well as curcumin and cancer.
There Is No Turmeric Without Curcumin
Curcumin is believed to possess anti inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-carcinogenic properties, each of which are thought to help prevent, and in some cases help fight cancer. It’s kind of a magical compound.
Turmeric is boiled, dried, and broken down into a powder, which allows the curcumin to be fully exposed. In this form, higher doses are able to be administered.
Inflammation and Its Relationship to Cancer
Research indicates that inflammation within the body caused by pollutants, food, or genetic dispositions could be a significant contributing factor toward the establishment of several diseases, including certain cancers. But how exactly can turmeric help fight cancer?
Some studies suggest that the antioxidant properties within turmeric and curcumin can help control inflammation, which thereby helps to alleviate stress to the body, which then could prevent and/or minimize the expansion of specific cancerous cells. Curcumin has long been used to treat maladies such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis that are a result of direct inflammation. It seems likely that these anti-inflammatory properties could also be able to fight cancer.
A study published in the European Journal of Surgical Oncology found that “Chronic inflammation is an aberrantly prolonged form of a protective response to a loss of tissue homeostasis. As a result, many cancers are inflammation-related.”
In several lab tests, curcumin was found to block the growth of certain kinds of cancers. One study utilizing turmeric extract containing curcumin actually stabilized colorectal cancer. These anti-inflammatory effects can even boost your memory and your mood!
Turmeric Health Benefits: The Research Is Mounting
Over 2,000 published studies have shown curcumin is effective in battling cancers of the breast, prostate, liver, colon, lung, pancreas, and more. Some of these studies even indicate that curcumin can actually prevent the cancer from multiplying. There is also evidence that curcumin may trigger apoptosis, which occurs when cells naturally kill themselves off. It’s one way that the body can rid itself of unnecessary damaged cells.
There’s also a significant amount of research suggesting lower rates of certain types of cancer prevail in countries where people regularly consume curcumin in doses between 100 mg and 200 mg a day as part of the typical diet.
Curcumin and Cancer: An Aid in Chemotherapy
While more research is certainly needed to assess how potent curcumin can be at preventing or even curing cancer, there is mounting evidence that it is an agent of recovery—specifically to those who may be undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy to treat a cancerous tumor.
In several studies, turmeric was found to be a chemosensitizer—adding curcumin to the diet killed more cancer cells than chemotherapy alone, according to a Mayo Clinic report.
A 2013 study from the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention found that curcumin in combination with other herbal supplements could actually inhibit the growth of breast cancer while paired with chemotherapy treatments. More studies are certainly needed, and curcumin is currently being tested in as many as 16 or more clinical trials for cancer, including prostate, breast, colon, and osteosarcoma.
And while it does act as a chemosensitizer toward many tumors, including those in the breast, colon, or prostate, curcumin simultaneously can act as a protective agent for non-cancerous organs.
How to Get More Turmeric in Your Diet
While it is true that curcumin has been extensively researched and has demonstrated specific anti-cancer properties in clinical trials, it’s not typically prescribed for cancer therapy or for cancer patients. It’s difficult to patent a spice, and drug companies are not incentivized to do so without being able to make a substantial, quantifiable profit.
But this shouldn’t stop you from benefiting from all these properties with turmeric readily available in several different forms.
Lucky you if you happen to love Indian or Thai food, two cuisines that naturally increase turmeric (and curcumin) in your diet. While it’s possible to purchase turmeric root fresh, it’s much more difficult to find and could be relegated to specialty grocers.
It’s much more possible to find the dried spice, which can be sprinkled over your food and added to sauces and other seasonings. There are also several teas and powders that are easy to prepare. You can even make a turmeric latte that can really wake up your immune system. Or make a delectable turmeric smoothie!
If cooking with curry isn’t your thing, there are plenty of curcumin and turmeric supplements available that you can take with a meal usually three times a day (or as recommended by your doctor). Quality control is imperative when it comes to supplements, so only purchase a premium turmeric supplement (preferably organic) from a trusted company.
Please consult with a physician before taking any turmeric supplements or before adding turmeric spice to your diet on a regular basis. It’s unclear how turmeric could interact with other medications.