The World's Healthiest Foods

Curry spice, Turmeric—a Potent Anti-Cancer Agent

In new research, an ingredient of the curry spice, turmeric prevented skin blistering and reddening in mice after a dose of radiation-an effect that may provide significant benefit to cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy. Another just published study suggests that the same active ingredient in turmeric, which is called curcumin, inhibits the synthesis of a protein thought to be instrumental in tumor formation. Other studies published earlier this year suggest that curcumin also prevents angiogenesis, the development of additional blood supply necessary for cancer cell growth, and may help prevent the initiation and progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Practical Tips

Be careful when using turmeric-its vibrant gold color can stain. Quickly wash any area with which it has made contact with soap and water.

Here are a few of the World's Healthiest Foods' serving ideas to help you reap the anti-cancer benefits of this beneficial spice:

To learn more about turmeric, truly one of the World's Healthiest Foods, simply click turmeric. For some exceptionally quick, easy and delicious recipes using turmeric, click on the Recipe Assistant, select turmeric on the healthy foods list, and click on the Submit button. A list containing links to all the World's Healthiest Foods' recipes containing turmeric will appear immediately below.

Research Summary

Curcumin, well known for its anti-inflammatory effects, is already being studied for its use in the treatment of colon cancer and Alzheimer's Disease. In the latest study, conducted by a team at the University of Rochester's Wilmot Cancer Center, mice given curcumin and then subjected to radiation had fewer blisters and burns than mice not given this protective compound. The Wilmot reseachers presented the results of their pilot study at the 44th annual meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology on July 10, 2002, in New Orleans.

The other study mentioned above appeared in the September 2002 issue of the journal Cancer and relates work by Dr Hideki Hidaka and his team at Kumamoto University in Japan. Here, researchers mixed human pancreatic cancer cells with various concentrations of curcumin and found that the growth rate of the cancer cells significantly slowed. Curcumin prevented cancer cell growth by inhibiting the production of an immune system agent called interleukin-8 (IL-8), which plummeted as the curcumin concentration increased, and so did the activity of nuclear factor kappa-B (NF-kappa B). Interleukin-8 (IL-8) belongs to a group of pro-inflammatory immune agents called cytokines and signals white blood cells to come to a particular site to clear out a perceived offender, thus leading to inflammation. Scientists think that the inflammatory cascade that results from the production of IL-8 stimulates the proliferation of tumor cells. NF-kappa B belongs to a family of transcription agents that regulate genes involved in a wide variety of biological processes, including the gene which produces IL-8.

Yet another recent study provides evidence that curcumin's anti-cancer activity involves not only inhibition of IL-8, but the prevention of angiogenesis- the development of additional blood supply necessary for cancer cells' continued growth. Curcumin has not only been found to inhibit the growth of pancreatic, prostate, and oral cancer cell lines, but this active compound found in turmeric has also been shown to help prevent the inflammatory processes involved in the initiation and progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Upcoming research will look at curcumin's effectiveness in humans with colon cancer: Professor Andy Gescher of the Department of Oncology at Leicester University , UK, thinks anecdotal human evidence suggests that members of the Asian community in Leicester, England might be better able to resist colon cancer because they use the spice in cooking. Gescher is now testing the protective effects of curcumin capsules on colon cancer patients.

References: Hidaka H, Ishiko T, Furuhashi T, Kamohara H, Suzuki S, Miyazaki M, Ikeda O, MIta S, Setoguchi T, Ogawa M. Curcumin inhibits interleukin 8 production and enhances interleukin 8 receptor expression on the cell surface:impact on human pancreatic carcinoma cell growth by autocrine regulation. Cancer. 2002 Sep 15;95(6):1206-14. Rinaldi AL, Morse MA, Fields HW, Rothas DA, Pei P, Rodrigo KA, Renner RJ, Mallery SR. Curcumin activates the aryl hydrocarbon receptor yet significantly inhibits (-)-benzo(a)pyrene-7R-trans-7,8-dihydrodiol bioactivation in oral squamous cell carcinoma cells and oral mucosa. Cancer Res 2002 Oct 1;62(19):5451-6. Nakamura K, Yasunaga Y, Segawa T, Ko D, Moul JW, Srivastava S, Rhim JS. Curcumin down-regulates AR gene expression and activation in prostate cancer cell lines. Int J Oncol 2002 Oct;21(4):825-30. Gururaj A, Belakavadi M, Venkatesh D, Marme D, Salimath B. Molecular mechanisms of anti-angiogenic effect of curcumin. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 2002 Oct 4;297(4):934. Parfk SY, Kim DS. Discovery of natural products from Curcuma longa that protect cells from beta-amyloid insult: a drug discovery effort against Alzheimer's disease.J Nat Prod 2002 Sep;65(9):1227-31.