A Spice for Life

CURE, Summer 2014, Volume 13, Issue 2

Research says turmeric could prevent cancer, as well as suppress growth of cancer cells by targeting a particular protein in a cellular pathway.

If South Asian or Indian food is on the menu, it might be made with the spice turmeric, which gets its yellow pigment from curcumin. A growing body of research says this phytochemical could prevent cancer, as well as suppress growth of cancer cells by targeting a particular protein in a cellular pathway. In a preclinical study released in February, researchers revealed that curcumin suppresses colon cancer cells.

Bharat Aggarwal, a professor of cancer research in the department of experimental therapeutics at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, has been studying curcumin for decades.

“Curcumin will go after cancer, and these days we know cancer has driver genes and curcumin modulates the driver genes,” he says. Aggarwal is now focusing his research on turmeric, which he says might be even more bioactive than curcumin alone.

In a review published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, Aggarwal, the principal author, wrote that studies have indicated that curcumin-free turmeric components “possess numerous biological activities including anti-inflammatory, anticancer and antidiabetic activities.”

Aggarwal says he has watched the number of trials investigating both curcumin and turmeric increase dramatically in the past decade. In his review, Aggarwal examined clinical and experimental data on the use of turmeric as an anti-inflammatory, as well as its anticancer properties. He concluded by calling for more clinical studies on the spice, which he says can be bought inexpensively and mixed with a liquid or yogurt for ingestion.

Despite the promising laboratory findings, benefits have not yet been formally proven in patients.