It seems that not only is Curcumin a powerful anti-inflammatory, it may play a role in protecting us against cancer.
The study of plant-derived substances has evolved in the last 200 years, after the discovery that different active compounds can be derived from plants and studied for their health benefits. One such compound that has gained a lot of attention is the polyphenol curcumin, which is present in the yellow-orange turmeric spice powder.
Curcumin was first isolated in 1815 by two scientists from Harvard College Laboratory. Since then, it has been studied extensively for its powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and antiviral activities. In particular, it was found that curcumin could influence a wide range of molecules that play a role in cancer, and this unsurprisingly sparked a new area of interest among researchers – the study of curcumin and its anti-cancer potential.
Since 1987, the National Cancer Institute has tested over 1000 different agents for their potential chemopreventative activities (meaning the ability to reduce the risk of, or delay the development of cancer). Only about 40 of those ever moved to clinical trials, with one of those being curcumin.
Chemopreventative agents are usually grouped into three different subgroups:
Antiproliferatives (substances used to prevent or slow cell growth, particularly malignant cells, into surrounding tissues)
Antioxidants (compounds that protect your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals)
Carcinogen-blocking agents (agents that disrupt the mechanisms that drive carcinogenesis, such as DNA damage)
As identified by researchers in a 2013 review, curcumin is found to belong to all three of these subgroups, and appears to play a role in helping to slow and/or block every stage of cancer, findings which help shed light on the potential powerful anticancer capabilities of curcumin.
Back in 1987 an interesting study examined the effects of curcumin on the DNA mutating ability of several toxins, and found that it was a successful anti-mutagen (an agent that helps to prevent the mutations of a compound) against several environmental carcinogens (however this was conducted in test tubes, not on humans).
Following on from this, a 1992 study was conducted studying the effects of eating less than 1 tsp of turmeric every day for a month, on a group of non-smokers vs smokers. After the month was over, the smoker group saw significant decreases in DNA mutagens in their urine (however it still exceeded that of the non-smoker group, so it’s better not to smoke at all).
There have been many more studies and systematic reviews conducted since then, focusing on the potential health benefits of dietary turmeric, with findings showing the inhibition of cell growth in many types of cancerous cells, shedding light on curcumin as an anti-mutagen and its potential usefulness in chemoprevention. There’s certainly a lot of exciting research out there in the world of “food as medicine”.
Tumeric has many other benefits and properties, particulary acting as an anti-inflammatory agent. We love using it in our meals and our vegan protein powder blends.
Turmeric can be purchased in powder form from the spice aisle of the supermarket, or as fresh turmeric root (looks a little like ginger root), which is also usually available from most grocery stores in the fresh produce section. For enhanced bio-availability use pepper with turmeric.
Do you have turmeric in your spice cabinet? If so, how do you like to use it?
Responsible health advice: There is no one size fits all approach to nutrition or the healing properties of food. If you are unwell please seek professional advice.
-Anand, P., Sundaram, C., Jhurani, S., Kunnumakkara, A. B., and Aggarwal, B. B. (2008). Curcumin and cancer: an “old-age” disease with an “age-old” solution. Cancer Lett. 267, 133–164.
-Nagabhushan M, Amonkar AJ, Bhide SV. In vitro antimutagenicity of curcumin against environmental mutagens. Food Chem Toxicol. 1987;25(7):545-547.
-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.
B.Sc Nutrition with Psychology (Dual Degree)
Consulting Clinical Nutritionist to The Banyans Wellness Retreat
Owner and Managing Director of Wholesomeness and Wholesomeness-on-Roma