Turmeric Cancer Benefits
- Prevents the formation of cancer
- Kills cancer cells
- Prevents angiogenesis and cuts nutrient supply to cancer cells
- Prevents metastasis or the spread of cancer
- Enhances effect of chemotherapy
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 testing the effects of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, on cancer show promising results.
Tumors or cancers are formed when certain cells in the body divide uncontrollably and do not respond to the signals for natural cell death. Tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), and cancerous tumors pose a risk since they can spread to other organs and inhibit vital body functions.
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 via multiple pathways.
1. Lowers Cancer Risk Due To Free Radical Damage
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. Turmeric can scavenge free radicals, which are reactive molecules that are generated in the body during metabolic processes as well as due to exposure to certain toxins. It can also raise the levels of the antioxidant glutathione and help prevent damage to cellular components. Why is scavenging free radicals so important? Because they have a role to play in cancer formation. While free radicals are part of our immune system and help fight infections, sometimes they attack healthy cells, oxidizing cell membranes and damaging the DNA and proteins inside the cells. In the absence of enough antioxidants to scavenge the free radicals or repair damage, this DNA damage can cause gene mutations and eventually, cancer.
2. Prevents Cancer Due To Chronic Inflammation
Turmeric is also celebrated in traditional medicine because of its anti-inflammatory properties, and regular consumption can prevent chronic inflammation, another risk factor of cancer. This is why chronic inflammatory diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease increase the risk for cancer.
Inflammation is a natural immune response to injury or infection, but it can become chronic due to a long-standing infection, a poor diet, metabolic condition, abnormal immune reaction, or obesity. In this state, chronically inflamed cells give out signals to divide and form new cells that can replace the damaged ones. Coupled with other factors, this can lead to uncontrolled cell division, which then leads to 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, diabetes, and other metabolic conditions which increase inflammation in the body.
3. Prevents The Formation Of Tumors
But turmeric is good not just for cancer prevention. It has a curative function too. Right from the early stages of tumor formation, it inhibits the enzymes in your body responsible for carcinogenesis. 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. And in one study, an ointment containing curcumin as well as turmeric extract could help reduce pain, itching, and smell in 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.
4. Kills Cancer Cells
Cancer cells are different from normal cells when it comes to survival. They do not respond to apoptosis or programmed cell death signals. As a result, the cells keep proliferating and eventually invade other tissues. While anti-cancer drugs can kill cancer cells, 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 indicates its potential as an alternative cancer remedy or preventive.
5. Prevents Nutrient Supply To Cancer Cells
One of the complications of cancer is angiogenesis or the formation of new blood vessels. It may 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 trigger angiogenesis. As a result, the cancer cells now get better nutrient supply and survive longer. Curcumin can inhibit angiogenesis. An animal study has found that it does so by inhibiting the function of the enzyme cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and downregulating the expression of a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).
6. Prevents Metastasis Or Spread Of Cancer
Angiogenesis does not only increase nutrient supply and survival in cancer cells, it also helps in metastasis. The cancer cells enter the blood stream and are carried to healthy cells in different parts of the body. The chance of survival goes down with metastasis since the cancer is now no longer localized and can affect multiple body parts simultaneously. Turmeric can prevent metastasis.
In a study on mice with breast cancer, curcumin was found to inhibit the spreading of this highly invasive cancer to the lungs. About 68% of the mice treated with curcumin had no or very few lung metastases compared to the 17% of the mouse not treated with curcumin. The researchers concluded that it is possible to prevent metastasis through a dietary intervention.
7. Boosts Effectiveness Of Chemotherapy
Till date, however, not many randomized clinical studies on humans have tested the effect of turmeric on cancer. So giving up on conventional therapy and 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 studies on breast and colorectal cancer cells.
8. Can Fight Against Multiple Risk Factors Of Cancer
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 metal poisoning: Heavy metals cause free radical damage, which can in turn lead to cancer. 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.
- Radiation: Turmeric has also been found to reduce skin damage caused by UVB rays, which is a primary cause of skin cancer.
- Obesity: Obesity can lead to cancer by altering hormonal activity. Curcumin has been found to reduce obesity by regulating lipid metabolism, despite a high-fat diet.
9. Can Fight Against Cancer-Causing Bacteria And Viruses
Helicobacter pylori is a common gut bacteria that is known to be responsible for stomach and colon cancer. Since curcumin can fight against the bacteria, researchers see it as a potential preventive for cancers caused by H. pylori.
Viruses can cause cancer by inserting their DNA or RNA into the host cell. Examples include the human papilloma viruses which cause cervical and oral cancer, Epstein-Barr virus, which causes cancers in areas at the back of the nose, hepatitis B and C virus, which cause liver cancer, human immunodeficiency virus, which causes opportunistic cancers, and human herpes virus 8, which causes Kaposi sarcoma.
Recent research also shows that curcumin can suppress the transcription of a cancerous gene in HPV-related oral cancer cell lines. It can also inhibit the Epstein-Barr virus and can be used as an adjuvant for EBV-related cancers, and induce cell death in primary effusion lymphoma, a type of cancer found in people affected by the HHV-8 and EBV. It can also inhibit gene replication in both hepatitis B and C viruses.
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. However, more clinical trials testing the effect of curcumin on different types of cancer at different stages need to be conducted to get a clear understanding about the dosage necessary for cancer prevention.
That said, dietary intake of turmeric on a regular basis has many other benefits 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.
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