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Turmeric for Cancer Defense

Using Turmeric for Cancer Defense

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Updated July 14, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Turmeric is often touted as a natural remedy for preventing or treating different types of cancer, including breast cancer and skin cancer. An Indian spice widely available in supplement form, turmeric is also used to treat conditions like arthritis and indigestion. Although scientists have yet to prove that turmeric can boost your cancer defense, preliminary research shows that turmeric may possess some cancer-fighting properties.

The Science Behind Turmeric and Cancer

Turmeric contains a substance called curcumin. Findings from some animal research and test-tube studies suggest that curcumin may help stave off cancer, possibly due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-stimulating benefits. In a 2010 research review published in Current Medical Chemistry, for instance, curcumin was found to increase apoptosis (a type of programmed cell death essential for stopping the proliferation of cancer cells).

The review's authors also note that clinical trials testing turmeric's cancer-fighting effects are scarce. Indeed, while studies on mice indicate that curcumin may help combat breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer, there is currently a lack of human-based research to confirm these findings.

Should You Use Turmeric to Fight Cancer?

The American Cancer Society states that laboratory and animal tests on turmeric "look very promising," but cautions that more research is needed before turmeric can be recommended for cancer prevention or treatment. While turmeric is generally considered safe when consumed as a spice (in foods like curry, for example), the National Institutes of Health warn that turmeric may cause nausea and/or diarrhea when taken in large amounts.

It's important to note that using turmeric as a substitute for medical treatment for cancer can have serious health consequences. If you're considering the use of turmeric in treatment or prevention of cancer (or any other condition), make sure to consult your physician about the potential benefits and risks.

Sources:

Aggarwal BB, Shishodia S, Takada Y, Banerjee S, Newman RA, Bueso-Ramos CE, Price JE. "Curcumin suppresses the paclitaxel-induced nuclear factor-kappaB pathway in breast cancer cells and inhibits lung metastasis of human breast cancer in nude mice." Clin Cancer Res. 2005 Oct 15;11(20):7490-8.

Bar-Sela G, Epelbaum R, Schaffer M. "Curcumin as an anti-cancer agent: review of the gap between basic and clinical applications." Curr Med Chem. 2010;17(3):190-7.

Dorai T, Cao YC, Dorai B, Buttyan R, Katz AE. "Therapeutic potential of curcumin in human prostate cancer. III. Curcumin inhibits proliferation, induces apoptosis, and inhibits angiogenesis of LNCaP prostate cancer cells in vivo." Prostate. 2001 Jun 1;47(4):293-303.

Garcea G, Berry DP, Jones DJ, Singh R, Dennison AR, Farmer PB, Sharma RA, Steward WP, Gescher AJ. "Consumption of the putative chemopreventive agent curcumin by cancer patients: assessment of curcumin levels in the colorectum and their pharmacodynamic consequences." Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005 Jan;14(1):120-5.

Lin YG, Kunnumakkara AB, Nair A, Merritt WM, Han LY, Armaiz-Pena GN, Kamat AA, Spannuth WA, Gershenson DM, Lutgendorf SK, Aggarwal BB, Sood AK. "Curcumin inhibits tumor growth and angiogenesis in ovarian carcinoma by targeting the nuclear factor-kappaB pathway." Clin Cancer Res. 2007 Jun 1;13(11):3423-30.

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