Curry and Cancer

Curry and CancerIt is estimated that tumors start at around the age of 20, yet detection of cancer is normally around the age of 50 or later, thus it takes cancer decades to incubate. Why does it take so long? Recent studies indicate that in any given type of cancer hundreds of different genes must be modified to change a normal cell into a cancer cell. Although cancers are characterized by the dysregulation of cell signaling pathways at multiple steps, most current anticancer therapies involve the modulation of a single target. Chemotherapy has gotten incredibly specific, but the ineffectiveness, lack of safety, and high cost of these monotargeted therapies has led to real disappointment, and drug companies are now trying to develop chemo drugs that take a more multitargeted approach. As a result, many pharmaceutical companies are increasingly interested in developing multitargeted therapies.

Many plant-based products, however, accomplish multitargeting naturally and, in addition, are inexpensive and safe compared to drugs. However, because drug companies are not usually able to secure intellectual property rights to plants, the development of plant-based anticancer therapies has not been prioritized. They may work, they may work better for all we know; they may be safer—they may actually be safe, period.

If you were going to choose one plant-based product to start testing, one might choose curcumin, the pigment in the spice turmeric, the reason curry powder looks yellow.

Well before you start throwing money at research, you might want to start asking some basic questions, like “Do populations that eat a lot of turmeric have lower cancer rates?” The incidence of cancer does appear to be significantly lower in regions where turmeric is heavily consumed. Population-based data indicate that some extremely common cancers in the Western world are much less prevalent in regions where turmeric is widely consumed in the diet. For example, overall cancer rates are much lower in India than in western countries.

Much lower. U.S. men get 23 times more prostate cancer than men in India. Americans get between 8 and 14 times the rate of melanoma, 10 to 11 times more colorectal cancer, 9 times more endometrial cancer, 7 to 17 times more lung cancer, 7 to 8 times more bladder cancer, 5 times more breast cancer, and 9 to12 times more kidney cancer. And this is not like 5, 10, or 20 percent more, but times more. So hundreds of percent more breast cancer, thousands of percent more prostate cancer, differences even greater than some of those found in the China Study.

Because Indians account for one-sixth of the world’s population, and have some of the highest spice consumption in the world, epidemiologic studies in this country have great potential for improving our understanding of the relationship between diet and cancer. Of course it may not be the spices.

Several dietary factors may contribute to the low overall rate of cancer in India. Among them are a relatively low intake of meat and a mostly plant-based diet in addition to the high intake of spices. Forty percent of Indians are vegetarians, and even the ones that do eat meat don’t eat a lot. And it’s not only what they don’t eat, but what they do. India is one of the largest producers and consumers of fresh fruits and vegetables, and they eat a lot of pulses, meaning legumes—beans, chickpeas, and lentils. And it’s not just turmeric, they eat a wide variety of spices that constitute, by weight, the most antioxidant-packed class of foods in the world.

Population studies can’t prove a correlation between dietary turmeric and decreased cancer risk, but they can certainly inspire a bunch of research. So far, curcumin has been tested against a variety of human cancers, including colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast, prostate, multiple myeloma, lung cancer, and head and neck cancer, for both prevention and treatment. We’ll look at some of this research, next.

Doctor’s Note

This is the first in a three-part video series on turmeric and cancer. Once they’re up, make sure you check out the next two videos: Carcinogen Blocking Effects of Turmeric Curcumin and Turmeric Curcumin Reprogramming Cancer Cell Death. You can subscribe to get email alerts when they are up by clicking here.

I’m working on another dozen or so videos on this amazing spice. This is what I have so far:

Amla, dried Indian gooseberry powder, is another promising dietary addition:

I add amla to my Pink Juice with Green Foam recipe. Not all natural products from India are safe, though. See, for example, my video Some Ayurvedic Medicine Worse than Lead Paint Exposure.

More on the antioxidant concentration in spices in general in Antioxidants in a Pinch. Why do antioxidants matter? See Food Antioxidants and Cancer and Food Antioxidants, Stroke, and Heart Disease.

Which fruits and vegetables might be best? See #1 Anticancer Vegetable and Best Fruits for Cancer Prevention.

Featured Photo Source: FourWinds10

Michael Greger M.D.About Michael Greger M.D.Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial. Currently Dr. Greger proudly serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.

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