Eating turmeric, a main ingredient in curry, may be a weapon in the fight against cancer. A clinical trial at Johns Hopkins found that when volunteers were given curcumin, the main chemical in turmeric, along with quercetin, an antioxidant found in onions, the size and number of polyps in the colon were drastically reduced. Curcumin is the chemical that gives turmeric its distinctive bright yellow color.
The Johns Hopkins trial involved victims of familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), an inherited form of precancerous polyps that causes hundreds of polyps to develop in the intestinal tract. Eventually, they progress into cancer.
The researchers gave patients 480 milligrams of curcumin and 20 milligrams of quercetin three times a day for six months. Before beginning the regimen, they were examined using a flexible sigmoidoscope and then reexamined at three month intervals. At the end of six months, all patients who finished the study showed a decrease in the number of polyps. The average number dropped by 60 percent and their average size shrank by half.
“We believe this is the first proof that these substances have significant effects in patients with FAP,” said Francis M. Giardiello, M.D., of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Even though quercetin has been shown to inhibit the growth of colon cells, Dr. Giardiello believes that curcumin is the more powerful cancer fighter of the two. “The amount of quercetin we administered was similar to what many people consume daily; however, the amount of curcumin is many times what a person might ingest in a typical diet,” he said.
Previous studies in rats as well as observation of groups of people who eat large amounts of curry also suggest that curcumin might be effective in preventing and treating colon cancer.
Recent studies indicate that curcumin might be effective in treating and preventing not just colon cancer but a wide range of cancers. A study at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center found that curcumin inhibited the spread of breast cancer to the lungs of mice, and another Anderson study found curcumin inhibited the growth of melanoma cells. An additional study at Rutgers’ Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy found that curcumin, when combined with phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), a substance found in crucifer vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, significantly reduced the growth of cancerous prostate tumors in mice.