Common to all tropical Asian vegetable markets is the presence of fresh Turmeric roots. The underground stems or rhizomes reveal the distinctive bright yellow / orange color for which most Asian food depends as the basis for curry. Turmeric itself provides the distinctive curry taste and color, while Chili and other spices provide the relative “heat” of the curry.
Turmeric is an excellent example of where the line between a culinary herb and a medicine is very fine. At the same time that it is adding flavor and color to your food its antioxidant properties protects our digestive systems from dietary toxins and harmful fatty acids, it assists our immune systems in fighting infections and reduces problems of excessive inflammation throughout the body. In this sense, the inclusion of Turmeric in curries in Asia was certainly not by chance, especially seeing that in hot tropical countries food becomes rancid in a matter of hours.
The yellow pigment of Turmeric comes from the constituent, curcumin, which is also the most active medicinal principle. It is this principle that has made Turmeric a major medicinal herb since ancient times. It is listed in an Assyrian herbal dating from about 600 BC and is also mentioned by Dioscorides. In Indian Ayurvedic Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine it plays an important role and records date back more than 2,000 years. Turmeric has been a major commodity from Asia to the West since the earliest days of the ancient “spice routes” via the Middle East into Europe.
Turmeric and its most active compound, curcumin, have been shown to have a wide range of therapeutic actions in thousands of studies, especially in relation to inflammatory diseases and cancer. Indeed, Curcumin has the most evidence based literature to support its use in cancer of any herb or nutrient. These studies have shown it assists our bodies to destroy cancer cells while also promoting healthy cell function. Curcumin blocks the ability of tumours and cancers to grow and multiply by preventing the development of blood supply (anti-angiogenesis) that cancers need to survive. At the same time Curcumin inhibits multiple mechanisms that cancerous cells use to form, grow and spread. In particular, this involves supporting several key areas that our immune system uses to identify and remove cancer cells. Exciting new research shows that Curcumin may also be able to destroy the cancer stem cells that can be resistant to chemotherapy and can cause cancers to rebound.
Naturally it should be understood that while this research is very inspiring the use of Curcumin in cancer therapy should always be done under medical supervision as part of a complementary medicine approach with professional monitoring. Many of the researchers have also been investigating the complementary use of Curcumin alongside radiotherapy and chemotherapy as an adjuvant and the results have been very encouraging. Every month more than a dozen new studies are published in scientific journals on the effects of Turmeric and Curcumin in relation to its anti cancer effects. These studies are generally looking at the effects of Curcumin on the following cancer pathways:
- Reduces chronic inflammation (via inactivating NF-κB transcription factors)
- Protects against DNA damage
- Disrupts cancer cell signalling pathways
- Destruction of cancer cell mitochondria
- Disruption of cancer cell cycle
- Arrests cancerous stem cell development (while supporting normal stem cells)
- Turns on cancer cell apoptosis
- Reduces inflammatory prostaglandins
- Anti angiogenesis effect on cancer cells
- Slows metastatic activity
- As an adjuvant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy
Is eating the occasional curry enough to protect me from getting cancer? While statistically it’s been shown that Dietary Turmeric Potentially Reduces the Risk of Cancer, and cultures such as India traditionally have a lower rate of many cancers, more studies in this area need to be performed to understand the protective effect from dietary Turmeric alone. An important observation is that the bioavailability of Turmeric and Curcumin is low and as a result much of the current research is focused on improving bioavailabity of Curcumin via nanotechnology and nano delivery systems. Let us hope that highly bioavailable nano particle Curcumin will be standard complementary therapy for the cancer patient alongside conventional treatments in the near future. Check out our Turmeric Liquid Gold for more info.
In their paper “Curcumin and Cancer Cells: How Many Ways Can Curry Kill Tumor Cells Selectively?” researchers Jayaraj Ravindran, Sahdeo Prasad, and Bharat B. Aggarwal reviewed the existing scientific literature at the time on the pathways by which Curcumin selectively kills tumor cells, and not normal cells and the full range of cancers that have been studied.