The spice turmeric may fight cancers

Eating a curry not only spices up your life, it could save it too. Almost a third of breast cancer cases could be prevented by following a healthy diet and lifestyle.

So says Cancer Research UK, which estimates that with the right nutrition and physical activity, 27 per cent fewer people would develop the disease. However could a popular Indian spice also be useful for preventing certain types of cancer?

Scientists believe that curcumin, an extract from turmeric root, could have powerful anti-cancer properties. Turmeric has long been used to treat a variety of illnesses and studies show it has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antitumour properties.

Native to southern Asia, particularly India, the powder form of turmeric has a distinctive, vibrant yellow colour and a slight peppery taste. It forms the backbone of ancient Ayurvedic medicine and is traditionally thought to protect the liver, reduce inflammation, inhibit certain types of flu virus and restrain bacterial infections.

Breast cancer rates in India, where turmeric is a staple ingredient, are more than three times lower than in the UK and hundreds of studies over the past decade have looked at the effects of curcumin on breast cancer as well as other diseases.

Elderly people in India who consume turmeric regularly have the lowest incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the world.

Cancer specialist Professor Will Steward, who has led many research projects on the effects of curcumin, believes it has enormous potential.

“Curcumin can target a variety of processes which are important in breast cancer development,” he says.

“These include reduced proliferation, reduction in potential to spread and increase in programmed cell death of tumour cells.”

Recent studies have found that curcumin appears to prevent the formation of molecules that allow circulating tumour cells to spread and attach to other body parts. It is possible that curcumin could interfere with one of the important mechanisms of cancer development.


However the benefits of curcumin as an anti-cancer agent may not be restricted to breast well-being.

“Some studies in humans and from laboratory experiments suggest potential benefit in pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer and lung cancer,” says Professor Steward.

“We are running a trial, treating colorectal cancer patients with chemotherapy with or without the addition of curcumin. We hope to show that curcumin is safe, well tolerated and has the potential to improve the ability of chemotherapy to kill cancer cells.

“Also, new formulations of curcumin are being developed to increase its absorption into the body and hopefully its effect on tumours throughout the body.”

A daily dose contains the same amount of curcumin as roughly eight level teaspoons of turmeric. It also contains lycopene, a phytochemical found in tomatoes which acts as a blood thinner and is a powerful antioxidant, zinc and vitamin D3.

To promote better breast health, oncology dietitian Tara Whyand also recommends maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, carbohydrates and saturated fats. Foods rich in zinc such as lean red meat and mixed nuts, lycopene (found in tomatoes and watermelon) and vitamin D (from oily fish and eggs) are healthy additions to your diet.

Post-menopausal women who have not had breast cancer should eat more phytoestrogens, found in soya bean products and the fibre of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and flaxseeds.

Early warning signs of cancer

More than half of all British people ignore “red flag” symptoms that may show they have cancer, studies have revealed – so what are the dangers and how do you recognise them?

Some of the potential early warning signs of cancer include:

*A persistent cough or hoarseness, a lump, diarrhoea or constipation
*Unexplained weight loss or a sore that does not heal
*Blood in vomit, urine or faeces, bleeding between periods
*A feeling of not having fully emptied your bowels after going to the toilet are other signs
*Moles with an irregular shape or jagged edges should be checked by a GP.

Patient surveys have shown people may be in danger of ignoring some of the hidden signs of cancer out of fear that they’re wasting their doctor’s time.

More than 50 per cent of British people had experienced at least one “red flag” symptom – such as a persistent cough, a sore that doesn’t heal or a lump – but only two per cent thought cancer could be the cause, Cancer Research has found.

Cancer cells
Cancer cells

Some people said they failed to see a doctor because they were worried that their GP would view it as trivial , while others said they feared a cancer diagnosis or believed in maintaining a “stiff upper lip”.

Others reported feeling a lack of confidence in the health system or assumed their symptoms were down to ageing.

And many believed their symptoms would simply go away of their own accord, according to the survey of more than 1,700 people over the age of 50.

Dr Richard Roope, of Cancer Research UK, told The Independent: “The advice we give is: if in doubt, check it out – this would not be wasting your GP’s time.

“Often your symptoms won’t be caused by cancer, but if they are, the quicker the diagnosis, the better the outcome.”

The most common cancers are prostate cancer, breast cancer, bowel and lung cancer – but the UK’s cancer survival rates lag behind the European average and delays in diagnosing the disease are believed to be a major factor.

February 4 2016 is World Cancer Day, a campaign which started in 2000 to promote research, improve treatment and raise awareness of the devasating disease which affects 14.1m people across the world each year.