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  • Writer's pictureShruti GOCHHWAL

Does Turmeric have Anti-Cancer Properties?

Cancer remains one of the major public health problems and the second leading cause of death in the world. Though effective treatment options are available, they have a significant risk of side effects too.

Therefore, attention has gone to alternative and complementary medicine. Turmeric has been widely investigated in the last two decades for its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-cancer properties.

What is Turmeric?

Turmeric is a spice cultivated in many countries of Asia. It comes from the family Ginger. Also called saffron of Indian, jianghuang, haridra and haldi. It is used for numerous years as a flavoring agent.

What Does Turmeric Contain?

There are more than 100 different compounds in turmeric. The active ingredient that is responsible for all the health benefits is curcumin. Curcuminis a polyphenol called diferuloylmethane. Curcumin is shown to be effective against several symptoms like arthritis, inflammation, metabolic syndrome, liver disease, and neurodegenerative diseases.

How to Take Turmeric?


Curcumin capsules, Credits: pixabay

Turmeric can be taken as raw, as a powder, a paste, or extract. It is also available as oil. The recommended levels of turmeric per day are 500mg of curcumininoidsor about half a teaspoon of turmeric powder per day.  A person may experience side effects if he exceeds the recommended limits.

What Is The Rationale For Using Turmeric In Anti-Cancer Treatment?

Curcumin is known to have antioxidant properties, and it can decrease swelling and inflammation. As inflammation happens in cancer, curcumin is thought to be effective in cancer.

Invitro studies suggest that curcumin may prevent cancer, slow the spread of cancer, make chemotherapy more effective, and protect healthy cells from damage by radiation therapy.

Clinical trials are underway in investigating whether curcumin is effective in preventing cancer in people with precancerous conditions, and as a remedy for treating cancer.

Can Curcumin Kill Cancer Cells?

Cancer cells

Electron microscope view of cancer cells Credits: pixabay

A few laboratory studies show that curcumin can kill cancer cells and prevent further growth. It has the best effects on breast cancer, bowel cancer, and stomach cancer, and skin cancer cells.

Curcumin targets only cancer cells, leaving healthy cells unaffected. This is an important step to use turmeric in anti-cancer therapy because chemotherapy drugs kill both healthy cells and cancer cells.

How Curcumin Kills Cancer Cells?

Curcumin can inhibit enzymes such as cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) that are important for regulating inflammatory processes in the body. Abnormal levels of COX-2 or iNOS are associated with inflammatory disorders and certain cancers.

Curcumin reduces the growth of new blood vessels in tumors.

Curcumininfluencesseveral molecules that are involved in cancer like transcription factors necessary for DNA replication, growth factors, and cytokines necessary for cell signaling, and apoptotic proteins that help control cell death.

What Are The Difficulties In Using Curcumin For Anti-Cancer Treatment?

Though the scientific benefits of curcumin seem appealing, the applications of curcumin are limited because of its low water solubility, which results in poor oral bioavailability and low chemical stability.

The question that remains to be answered is how well the active ingredient of the turmeric will be able to reach the site of a tumor. Some researchers try encapsulating curcumin in a nanoparticle and delivering it to the required site.

Most studies that revealed the anti-cancer properties of turmeric are in-vitro thatis they were conducted in the laboratory in cell lines and animal models. These studies lay the foundation to understand the molecular mechanisms of curcumin against cancer cells. But not all the results originated from the invitro data can perfectly be replicated into humans.

What are the Side effects of Turmeric?

When used in combination with other drugs, it has been shown that curcumin interferes with certain medications like blood thinners and blood lowering drugs.

The amount of turmeric that is used for cooking is safe. But taking too much of turmeric can be dangerous.

A turmeric-based food supplement called Fortodol contains a strong anti-inflammatory drug called nimesulide. Long term consumption of Nimesulideis shown to exhibit the following side effects.

  1. Yellowing skin (jaundice)

  2. Dark urine

  3. Feeling or being sick

  4. Unusual tiredness

  5. Stomach or abdominal pain

  6. Loss of appetite

Take-Home Message

There are limited human clinical trials to state that curcumin is effective in preventing or treating cancer.

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