Turmeric, a spice used in Asian cooking, is a common food flavoring and coloring that shows promise in fighting cancer. Turmeric has historically been used in herbal remedies in Asia. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. Curcumin, as an antioxidant, is known to supply protection to cells from damage caused by free radicals.

Animal and laboratory studies have confirmed curcumin’s potential as an anticancer agent, interfering with molecular pathways needed for cancer’s development, growth and eventual spreading. Laboratory research has found that curcumin can kill cancer cells and slow the growth of those which survive. Research involving animals has produced impressive results of curcumin shrinking several different types of tumors and working as an enzyme inhibitor for cancer-causing enzymes in rodents.

Tumors of the skin, as well as of the esophagus, mouth, intestines, breast and stomach, are believed by some researchers to be prevented or slowed in their growth by turmeric. As exciting as this is, clinical research involving humans is necessary to determine turmeric’s real potential as a cancer fighter and is in its very early stage. One of the first steps of clinical cancer trials is finding the maximum safe dosage of curcumin.

Curcumin has shown it can be detected in the blood at 3.6 grams; patients have been able to take up to 10 grams a day for a few weeks without ill effects. Lower amounts could work for cancers of the stomach and intestine, since curcumin is mostly absorbed in the colon. One area of research is finding ways to increase absorption by combining curcumin with other substances.  While turmeric is safe when used as a spice, research is needed to determine its safety as an herbal remedy. Taken by mouth large amounts of the spice might cause intestinal problems and those who are allergic to ginger or yellow food coloring should avoid it.

It is important to note that curcumin is an extracted compound taken from turmeric and would not have the same effects as the whole herb. Certain people should avoid turmeric, such as those taking blood-thinners, immune suppressing drugs, non steroid pain relievers (ibuprofen), and some anti-cancer drugs due to the risk of drug interaction.  It is important for patients to always keep their physician and pharmacist informed about any herbs or supplements they may be taking. This is especially important for those in cancer treatment.


American Cancer Society