Curry May Help Prevent Cancer
The next time you’re out having a bite to eat, you might want to consider foods made with curry, especially in light of a recent discovery that a molecule in turmeric, which gives curry its distinctive yellow color, has the ability to kill esophageal cancer cells. The findings, published in the recent edition of the British Journal of Cancer, may lead to the development of anti-cancer therapies.
Turmeric has long been promoted as a health-promoting spice because it contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. The reason is because of the presence of the compound curcumin, which is believed to reduce inflammation while also helping to decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, and even certain cancers.
In the study in question, researchers treated esophageal cancer cells with curcumin and found that it not only killed the cancer cells within 24 hours, but also induced the cells to self-destruct. It is not completely clear how curcumin accomplishes this, but researchers believe that it initiates certain unexpected cellular pathways to induce cell death.
Normally, when a cell self destructs, a process referred to as apoptosis or programmed cell death, proteins known as caspases are switched on. They are also known as “executioner proteins” because of the role they play in removing unwanted cells. However, when they fail to do their job, aberrant cells (including cancer cells) can escape destruction and then go on to form tumor as well as contribute to autoimmune diseases.
In the presence of curcumin, however, the usual process of cell destruction was not observed. Researchers arrived at this conclusion because even when caspase inhibitors were added, the cells still underwent cell death, suggesting a novel cell-signaling pathway other than apoptosis.
Turmeric has been used to treat ailments for thousands of years, particularly in Indian Ayurvedic medicine. Modern research identified curcumin as one of the key factors, and subsequent research in animal models has supported its potential therapeutic qualities, but only recently has it been studied as a therapy for human diseases, including multiple myeloma, Alzheimer’s disease, colon cancer, psoriasis, and esophageal cancer. It has also been suggested that curcumin improves mental function, which includes dementia and depression.
Curcumin’s effectiveness as a potential anti-cancer agent is due to its ability to induce programmed cell death, or apoptosis, in tumor cells while having no toxic effect on normal, health cells.
Consumption of curcumin is not as common in United States as it is in African and Asian countries, where the spice turmeric is often used to flavor foods. In this country, where food tends to be more mildly flavored, turmeric is often associated with spicy dishes, including curries.
Furthermore, the findings in the current study should not be interpreted as an outright declaration to increase your turmeric consumption, since more work needs to be done. Consult an experienced dietician for more information. If you have questions or concerns about esophageal cancer, speak with your physician, or check out the website for the National Cancer Institute.