Can turmeric help to prevent cancer?

Can this Indian spice help to prevent cancer?

As regular readers know, I am careful not to promote any claims that certain products can prevent or cure cancer. I have come to believe that while maintaining a healthy lifestyle through a sensible diet, exercise and mental well-being is of undoubted benefit, in the end, there is a certain lottery-type element to cancer. I usually deplore the eat this food, buy this supplement to prevent cancer type of claims, but I am interested in reports that the Indian spice, turmeric may have a role to play in cancer prevention.   

The powdered spice is made from the dried stem of Curcuma longa , a member of the ginger family.  The principal active ingredient is called curcumin, which has been used to treat numerous ailments, particularly stomach problems, sprains, arthritis and inflammatory diseases.    

According to Dr Dónal O’Mathúna writing in yesterday’s Irish Times Health supplement, “several high-quality studies have found that curcumin has beneficial effects in various laboratory models used to inhibit cancer cells….Two studies have given curcumin to patients with early stages of cancer. Both were small studies (one with only five patients), using widely varying doses and did not have controlled groups to compare patients. A small percentage of patients showed improvements, but it was impossible to know if this was due to curcumin or the natural course of the cancer. Two studies are currently under way in the US examining curcumin’s role in preventing colon cancer.”     

Dr O’Mathúna  also goes on to point out some instances of  negative side effects in some patients who used the spice. He concludes that curcumin, the ingredient of turmeric which has shown much promise in laboratory studies needs more research. Clinical trials should confirm whether curcumin will have a role in helping prevent or treat cancer. For the moment, turmeric can spice up your food and may bring some general health benefits as well and I am happy to add a dash to my stews, curries and soups in the meantime.