Curcumin is the main component of the seasoning, medicinal and coloring agent turmeric, which is used together with other spices in curry powder. Along with its use as a spice in Indian and Thai cuisine, curcumin has also been used experimentally as a remedy for many illnesses in different cultures. In Ayurveda, a traditional Indian healing art, turmeric has wide uses. Practitioners use it to treat flatulence, dyspepsia, liver disorders (jaundice in particular), common colds, eye and ear infections, smallpox, chickenpox, and above all a variety of skin diseases and inflammatory conditions.
Numerous natural compounds have been extensively investigated for their potential for cancer prevention over decades. Since 1987, the National Cancer Institute has tested over 1,000 different potential agents for chemoprevention activity with only a few being moved to clinical trials. The most promising chemopreventive agent seems to be curcumin, the bright-yellow pigment in turmeric, which was shown to have strong carcinogen-blocking effects.
We know that cancers are caused by damage to the DNA in your cells. Scientists have thought of testing the effects of curcumin in smokers, who already have carcinogens flowing through their systems. The participants were given a teaspoon of turmeric powder a day of the regular spice found at the grocery store. When they measured the DNA-mutation rate of all smokers, the levels dropped by up to 38 percent. This doesn’t mean their DNA-damaging ability can be completely erased but those who include curcumin in their diet may help lessen the damage caused by the smoking.
Based on the stage of cancer development they help to fight, chemopreventive agents can be split into:
- Carcinogen blockers – help prevent the initial triggering DNA mutation
- Antioxidants – protect cells from damage
- Antiproliferatives – stop existing tumors from growing and spreading.
Curcumin proves to be very special because it seems to fit into all three subgroups, meaning it may potentially help prevent cancer, and/or halt cancer cell growth.
Curcumin is very potent and powerful! According to research, as little as a pinch of turmeric (1/8 of a teaspoon) ingested every day for a week can reduce the number of cells with DNA damage due to exposure to free radicals by half. The average intake in India is closer to 1/4 teaspoon a day, which is the recommended daily dose.
- Cooked turmeric appears to offer better DNA protection, while raw turmeric may have greater anti-inflammatory effects (helps with osteoarthritis, lupus and bowel inflammatory disease)
- Coupling turmeric with black pepper may enhance its effects. Piperine, a bioactive compound found in black pepper, significantly increases the absorption of curcumin in the bloodstream
Have I convinced you to spice your diet with this wonderful plant? For tasty and unique turmeric recipes, check the HEALTHY RECIPES page.
Park W, Amin AR, Chen ZG, Shin DM. New perspectives of curcumin in cancer prevention [published correction appears in Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2017 Jun;10 (6):371]. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2013;6(5):387-400. doi:10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-12-0410