Turmeric is promoted as an alternative cancer treatment. There is some evidence that curcumin, a substance in turmeric, can kill cancer cells in certain cancers.
- Turmeric is a spice grown in many Asian countries.
- Research on curcumin as a cancer treatment is ongoing.
- It may have side effects if taken in large amounts.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is also known as Indian saffron, jiang huang, haridra and haldi. It is a spice grown in many Asian countries. It belongs to the ginger family and is a main ingredient of curry powder.
The main active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin or diferuloyl methane. Laboratory studies have shown curcumin has anti cancer effects on cancer cells.
Curcumin is a substance found in the spice turmeric. Curcumin has long been used in Asian medicine to treat a variety of illnesses. Now some research suggests that curcumin may help prevent or treat cancer.
Curcumin is thought to have antioxidant properties, which means it may decrease swelling and inflammation. It’s being explored as a cancer treatment in part because inflammation appears to play a role in cancer.
Laboratory and animal research suggests that curcumin may prevent cancer, slow the spread of cancer, make chemotherapy more effective and protect healthy cells from damage by radiation therapy.
Studies of curcumin in people are still in the early stages. Clinical trials are underway to investigate curcumin as a way to prevent cancer in people with precancerous conditions, as a cancer treatment, and as a remedy for signs and symptoms caused by cancer treatments.
Research is ongoing, and there isn’t enough evidence to recommend curcumin at this time. As always, talk with your doctor before using any herbal supplement, including curcumin.
Why people with cancer use it
Research has shown lower rates of certain cancers in countries where people eat more curcumin. This is at curcumin levels of about 100mg to 200mg a day over long periods of time.
A few laboratory studies on cancer cells have shown that curcumin has anti cancer effects. It seems to be able to kill cancer cells and prevent more from growing. It has the best effects on breast cancer, bowel cancer, stomach cancer and skin cancer cells.
At the moment there is no clear evidence in humans to show that turmeric or curcumin can prevent or treat cancer.
How you have it
Turmeric can be taken raw, as a powder, a paste or extract. It is also available as an oil.
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Side effects of turmeric
It is important to remember that turmeric used in cooking is very safe. But we don’t know how safe curcumin is when used for medical reasons. So far, research studies seem to show that it causes few or no side effects. But we don’t know much about the side effects of taking it in large amounts to treat or prevent cancer.
People have reported stomach pain when eating too much turmeric. They have also reported skin problems when taking it for a long time. So, if you use curcumin for reasons other than cooking, talk to your doctor first.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has warned against Fortodol (also sold as Miradin). It is a turmeric-based food supplement.
Fortodol contains the strong anti-inflammatory drug nimesulide. Nimesulide can cause severe damage to the liver. The signs include:
- yellowing skin (jaundice)
- dark urine
- feeling or being sick
- unusual tiredness
- stomach or abdominal pain
- loss of appetite
It does not have a licence as a medicine in the UK. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the USA states that products with unknown amounts of nimesulide could be very harmful.
Research into curcumin as a cancer treatment
Several studies have looked into whether curcumin could be a cancer treatment. These have had some promising results.
One of these in 2013 was an international laboratory study on bowel cancer cells. It looked at the effects of combined treatment with curcumin and chemotherapy. The researchers concluded that the combined treatment might be better than chemotherapy alone.
A problem highlighted by a number of review studies is that curcumin does not get absorbed easily. This makes it work less well as a treatment. Researchers are looking at ways of overcoming this problem.
We need more clinical trials in humans before we know how well it works as a treatment for cancer.
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