Turmeric Cancer Benefits
- Lowers cancer risk due to free radical damage
- Reduces chronic inflammation
- Prevents the formation of tumors
- Kills tumor cells
- Prevents angiogenesis
Curcumin, a dietary polyphenol found in turmeric, can check free radical damage and chronic inflammation, two primary risk factors of cancer. It can also fight carcinogens like heavy metals, H. Pylori bacteria, and a few viruses. Curcumin can also prevent the formation of tumors, enhance apoptosis, cut nutrient supply to cancer cells, and prevent spreading.
You may know turmeric as the condiment that gives a distinct flavor and color to Asian curries. But it is now emerging as an alternative remedy to fight and prevent one of the diseases we all fear – cancer. Turmeric is already well known as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, and this is what makes it a formidable ally against cancers ranging from ovarian and breast cancer to liver, pancreas, and colorectal cancer. Studies on the effects of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, on cancer show promising results.
In our body, new cells are constantly formed through cell division, diseased cells repaired or killed, and dead cells removed. But sometimes, this balance between cell growth and cell death is lost. As a result, certain cells divide abnormally and form a mass known as tumor (except in leukemia). These tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Cancerous tumors pose a risk since they can spread to other organs and inhibit vital body functions. But even when they are benign, tumors may pose a health risk just because of their size, location, and hormonal activity. Cancers are essentially caused by gene mutations which can be triggered by free radicals, carcinogens and mutagens, smoking, alcohol, radiation, hormonal imbalance, obesity, physical inactivity, and certain microbes like Helicobacter pylori and a number of viruses, including the herpes virus, HPV, and HIV. Turmeric can act as a preventive by helping eliminate many of these causes and it can also help treat cancer to a certain extent.
1. Can Fight Against Cancer Risk Factors
Research has found that curcumin, derived from the root Curcuma longa or turmeric, has the ability to suppress the activity of a variety of carcinogens and mutagens that are responsible for forming cancers in the body.
- Heavy metals: In one study, curcumin was found to reduce the toxicity induced by heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, and mercury in the liver. It could prevent cell damage and loss of natural antioxidants.
- Helicobacter pylori: It can also fight against Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that is known to be responsible for stomach and colon cancer.
- Viruses: Recent research shows that curcumin can also suppress the transcription of a cancerous gene in HPV-related oral cancer cell lines. Curcumin can also inhibit the Epstein-Barr virus, which increases the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer, and can be used as an adjuvant for EBV-related cancers.
- Radiation: Turmeric has also been found to reduce skin damage caused by UVB rays.
2. Lowers Cancer Risk Due To Free Radical Damage
Free radicals are reactive molecules that are generated in the body during metabolic processes as well as due to exposure to certain toxins. While these are part of our immune system and help fight infections, sometimes free radicals attack healthy cells, oxidizing cell membranes and damaging the DNA and proteins. In the absence of enough antioxidants to scavenge the free radicals or repair damage, this DNA damage can cause gene mutations and eventually, cancer.
Turmeric is one of the top antioxidant foods, with an ORAC value of 127068 – ORAC value stands for oxygen radical absorbance capacity and is a measure of a food’s antioxidant capacity. It can scavenge free radicals and raise the levels of the antioxidant glutathione that can help prevent damage to cellular components.
3. Prevents Cancer Due To Chronic Inflammation
When a cell is injured, it triggers an immune response in the form of inflammation. Some of the immune cells release chemicals that enhance cell division so that the damaged cells can be replaced by new and healthy cells. However, this balance is lost when inflammation becomes chronic, whether due to a long-standing infection, a poor diet, metabolic condition, abnormal immune reaction, or obesity. Chronic inflammation can then lead to uncontrolled cell division, which in turn can cause cancer. This is why chronic inflammatory diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease increases the risk for cancer. Inflammation may also result in chemoresistance, which makes conventional chemotherapy ineffective in fighting the cancer.
Curcumin, and by extension turmeric, has been found to block inflammatory pathways in the body by inhibiting inflammation-causing enzymes and proteins. For this reason, it is often used as an adjuvant in painful inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Turmeric can even help treat obesity and diabetes, both of which increase inflammation in the body, and thereby lower the risk of cancer.
4. Prevents The Formation Of Tumors
Right from the early stages of tumor formation, turmeric is useful. It inhibits the enzymes in your body responsible for carcinogenesis (formation of cancer). This process typically begins after your body has been exposed to carcinogens and toxins. Turmeric acts as a roadblock. Studies on animal test subjects have found it effective in inhibiting carcinogenesis associated with intestinal, mammary, and oral tumors and cancers. The topical use of curcumin in animal studies also inhibited tumor formation in the epidermis or skin of test animals. An ointment containing curcumin as well as turmeric extract may help those with external cancerous lesions. In one study that used a turmeric ointment on lesions, smell and itching reduced significantly for almost all patients while the pain and size of lesions reduced for about 10%. Almost 70% saw their lesions dry up.
5. Kills Cancer Cells
Cancer cells are different from normal cells and do not respond to apoptosis or cell death signals. As a result the cells keep proliferating and eventually invading other tissues. Anti-cancer drugs can kill cancer cells but they also affect normal and healthy cells, leading to a number of side effects. Turmeric, however, enhances apoptosis only in cancerous cells but not in normal cells. This makes it useful in alternative cancer remedies or prevention.
6. Prevents Nutrient Supply To Cancer Cells And The Spread Of Cancer
It would seem that formation of new blood vessels is a good thing because it means improved blood circulation. Not so with cancers. As cancers grow in size, blood supply becomes inadequate and the cells suffer from a lack of oxygen. This is known as tumor hypoxia. To counter this, the cancer cells release enzymes that signal angiogenesis or the formation of new blood vessels. Not only do the cancer cells now get better nutrient supply, they can also enter the blood stream and be carried to healthy cells in different parts of the body in a process known as metastasis.
Curcumin in turmeric may prevent this from happening by cutting off the nutrient supply tumor cells need to thrive. Research has shown curcumin inhibits angiogenesis and thereby helps shrink the tumors as well as prevent metastasis.
7. Boosts Effectiveness Of Chemotherapy
Till date, however, not many randomized clinical studies on the effect of turmeric on cancer have been conducted. So giving up on conventional therapy treating cancer solely with curcumin or turmeric cannot yet be recommended. But curcumin may certainly be used as an adjuvant. Combining it with conventional chemotherapeutic agents can make those agents more effective, especially if the cancer cells are resistant to chemotherapy, as seen in many studies on breast and colorectal cancer cells.
Dietary Intake Of Turmeric Has Few Side Effects But Curcumin Supplements Should Be Regulated
Mainstream cancer treatment is fraught with side effects, many of which while life-saving can hugely alter your quality of life. These range from appetite loss, hair loss, sleep trouble, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and fatigue to pain, anemia, bleeding, sexual and fertility issues, and even memory/concentration problems. In addition, these treatments are often expensive and a huge burden on the patient and their family. Which is why herbal and natural remedies like turmeric, which is relatively inexpensive and does not have any dire side effects, offer hope in cancer treatment.
Dietary intake of turmeric on a regular basis is fine and seems to cause no side effects. However, some people have complained of stomach aches after prolonged ingestion of large amounts of turmeric. There have also been some reports of skin problems and irritation on consuming large amounts.
With curcumin supplements, however, things are a little different. One supplement sold online was found to contain a substance called nimesulide (added for its anti-inflammatory property) which resulted in liver damage in some people. Watch for warnings signs of liver problems like dark urine, jaundiced skin, abdominal pain, fatigue, and appetite loss.
Use Turmeric Safely
Avoid buying supplements online and always consult your doctor before you begin any alternative treatments. It is also important to remember that these are treatments that may work alongside your regular anti-cancer treatment or as preventive care. They may not always be strong or quick enough to deliver the same results as mainstream treatment yet. So do not discontinue your medication or treatment without consulting your doctor first.