Turmeric is a bright orange spice commonly used in Indian cooking.
Over the past few years, it has gained notoriety as a nutritional, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant powerhouse, packing in a whole host of health benefits per tablespoon.
Its potential uses in the treatment of various forms of arthritis, as well as in the treatment of other chronic inflammation and pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, are promising, but scientists are now beginning to turn their attention to other potential therapeutic uses of this popular spice – specifically, can it kill cancer cells?
The answer, according to several recent studies, may in fact be “yes”. In a 2014 study, researchers found that curcumin, the primary ingredient in turmeric, effectively suppressed the proliferation of cancerous cells in cases of colon cancer.
“Curcumin could be a very promising adjunct to traditional cancer treatments,” researchers on another study wrote that same year, mentioning that curcumin appears to target cancer stem cells without harming other, healthy cells in the process. The process by which curcumin targets cancer cells while ignoring normal cells was outlined thoroughly in this study several years earlier.
Prevents Cancer Growth
In addition to fighting existing cancer cells, curcumin may also be a preventative agent, helping to stop the growth of cancer in the human body before it even starts. “Curcumin can suppress tumour initiation, promotion and metastasis,” says a study from 2003. The possibilities for curcumin as an anticancer agent are exciting to many; studies from the past ten years show promising developments in our understanding of the way curcumin can fight and prevent cancer, but there is still a ways to go.
Since the release of these findings, doctors and scientists have struggled to find clinical applications for the anticancer properties of curcumin – it’s one thing to observe the effects in a petri dish, but entirely another to figure out how to transfer those effects into a living person’s body. While turmeric is safe to ingest in relatively high doses, the bio-availability of its anti-cancer properties when ingested as a dietary supplement remains relatively low.
Nevertheless, with practical applications being discovered every day for curcumin in other diseases, such as arthritis and fibromyalgia, it can only be a matter of time before curcumin becomes another tool in the arsenal of doctors treating patients with cancer.
In the meantime, the powerful antioxidant effects of the curcumin-containing spice turmeric make it an ideal addition to anyone’s diet -- antioxidants neutralize free radicals which cause cell damage and can lead to the early development of cancer. If you have a family history of cancer or are concerned about your health, making turmeric a part of your diet can only have a positive impact, in addition to regular self-examinations and eating a balanced diet.