Text: Christina Economidou Pieridou, a dietitian and the author of the book “Anticancer – The Preventive Power of Food”
This article was published in My Herbs magazine issue 4
Turmeric is a yellow to orange colored spice that is part of the ginger family and imported to the rest of the world from India. It can be recognized as the spice that provides curry with its distinctive color and flavor. The health benefits of turmeric have been recognized by the Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic traditional medicine for hundreds of years. In the old days, turmeric was rare in Western civilizations since one had to travel a very long distance to find it and bring it back to Europe. Luckily turmeric is widely available nowadays, especially considering its amazing health benefits.
Modern science has only recently started to unlock the secrets of turmeric, but there are still hundreds of scientific articles on the health benefits of turmeric. It is rightfully gaining its position among the notorious super foods.
Tips for using turmeric in your recipes:
– Mix ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder with ½-1 teaspoon olive oil and a generous pinch of black pepper
– Add to vegetables, soups, rice dishes and salad dressings
Benefit from Curcumin’s Medicinal Powers:
• Add turmeric to dishes including rice, salad dressings and soups. Add a pinch of black pepper to aid turmeric absorption by the body.
• Curcumin supplements can be used by people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The anti-inflammatory benefits of curcumin are well established and may play a significant role in reducing the risk of developing colon cancer.
Cancer rates in India are much lower than in western countries, and daily diet is believed to play a key role in the huge differences in cancer development. People in India have one-eighth instances of lung cancer, one-ninth as many instances of colon cancer, one-fifth as many instances of breast cancer and one-tenth as many instances of kidney cancer, when comparing people of the same age.
Curcumin’s Health Benefits
Over the last decade, numerous studies have explored the potential prophylactic or therapeutic value of curcumin, the bioactive natural compound in turmeric. Curcumin is a polyphenol with proven strong anti-inﬂammatory and antioxidant properties. It is believed that curcumin contributes to more than 150 potentially therapeutic activities within the body. Extensive research has shown that curcumin has the ability to:
Protect liver function
Protect the heart
Help in the treatment of arthritis
Aid in reversing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Assist in the prevention and treatment of cancer
Breakthrough research on Curcumin
Curcumin is the golden spice from Indian saffron, as characterized by Bharat Aggarwal, who has a doctorate in biochemistry and was the head of the lab that worked on experimental cancer therapies at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Aggarwal, Ph.D., is a pioneer in cancer researcher who extensively studies and strongly believes in the anti-cancer effects of curcumin. He was the first to show that curcumin is very active against cancer in lab settings.
Since then curcumin has been studied extensively by a variety of researchers who suggest from lab and animal studies that curcumin kills cancer cells and slows tumor growth.
Curcumin acts on hundreds of cellular pathways and appears to be useful for fighting just about every type of cancer. More specifically, curcumin has been found to:
Inhibit the reproduction of cancerous cells
Inhibit the transition of cells from normal to cancerous cells
Inhibit the synthesis of NF-kB, which is a protein thought to play a key role in cancer formation, as it protects cancer cells from the immune system and allows their survival
Help the body destroy cancerous cells so that they cannot spread throughout the body
Helps prevent the development of additional blood supply through formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) that promote cancer cell growth.
Curcumin works synergistically with Chemotherapy
Another extremely important discovery is the ability of curcumin to sensitize many resistant human cancers to chemotherapy and radiation. The use of a curcumin-based, anticancer therapeutic strategy will hopefully allow for use of lower doses of chemotherapeutic drugs and radiation, while achieving much higher anticancer results in the future.In animal models curcumin was found to be very effective in protecting normal cells from the toxic effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This lower toxicity and enhanced protection was seen in a number of systems as curcumin was effective in:
Preventing nephrotoxicity (toxicity of the kidneys),
Preventing oral mucositis
Reducing intestinal damage
Curcumin also enhanced the repair of wounds in mice exposed to whole-body radiation.
Curcumin is a safe and highly effective compound that can be used both in the prevention of cancer as well as in standard cancer therapy.
Two key curcumin researchers, Ajay Goel, Ph.D. and Bharat B. Aggarwal, Ph.D., reported in the Journal “Nutrition and Cancer” in 2010: “Curcumin therapy may stop cancers before they become invasive and metastatic. These effects combined with its ability to prevent depression, fatigue, neuropathic pain, lack of sleep, and lack of appetite, all symptoms induced by cancer and cancer treatment, makes curcumin an ideal agent for cancer patients.”
Tips for Increasing Curcumin Absorption
Unfortunately curcumin is poorly absorbed in the human body, and doses used for animal studies cannot be easily achieved by supplementation. However, traditional wisdom again shows us the way. In traditional Indian cooking, curry is mixed with pepper or ginger, factors that greatly boost absorption from our intestinal walls through the blood.
Mixing turmeric with black pepper and dissolving it in oil, preferably olive oil or linseed oil greatly increases curcumin absorption.