Turmeric is derived from the curcuma longa plant, belongs to the ginger family, and is native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, to know that it’s principal active ingredient, curcumin, is believed to have powerful medicinal properties and so has been used in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines for thousands of years. When the fleshy underground stems are boiled and then dried in hot ovens, the grinding process leaves us with the deep orange-yellow coloured turmeric powder we can see in this picture. Turmeric can be eaten fresh like ginger, but in its more popular powdered form, is used as a food colourant and a spice in Asian cuisine.
However, it’s turmeric’s medicinal uses that is the spotlight of this post, and, of course, cancer in particular. Firstly, in the Ayurvedic tradition, turmeric is used to improve liver function. It’s antioxidant abilities help; protect the liver against toxins (particularly heavy metals like lead as well as powerful drugs taken for diseases like diabetes); prevent the formation of gallstones and reduce the size of existing ones; and improve the flow of bile. A healthy liver is a critical line of defence against cancer which is why many protocols, like the Gerson Therapy, begin with a liver detox to cleanse the body of poisons so it can recognise and kill cancer cells (see my e-book for a 6-step liver detox). Secondly, curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties, and the prestigious Mayo Clinic in the United States had this to say about it: “Curcumin is thought to have antioxidant properties, which means it may decrease swelling and inflammation. It’s being explored as a cancer treatment in part because inflammation appears to play a role in cancer. Laboratory and animal research suggests that curcumin may prevent cancer, slow the spread of cancer, make chemotherapy more effective and protect healthy cells from damage by radiation therapy”.
Thirdly, a substance known as a lipopolysaccharide found in the turmeric root has shown the capacity to stimulate and increase the activity of the immune system. A strong and healthy immune system is absolutely paramount to both preventing cancer (curcumin has 14 known cancer prevention molecules) as well as increasing the chances of healing cancer (curcumin has 12 anti-tumour molecules). So, where’s the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of curcumin in treating cancer, then? Well, there’ve been more than 50 clinical trials using human subjects completed to-date. A literature review entitled ‘Discovery of Curcumin, a Component of the Golden Spice, and Its Miraculous Biological Activities’ states the following with respect to these human clinical trials: “The most promising effects of curcumin have been observed with cancer; inflammatory conditions; skin, eye, and neurological disorders; diabetic nephropathy; and pain”. A number of studies have also been conducted, using rodents, which detail the role curcumin plays in preventing cancer including colon, lung, kidney, stomach and breast cancer to name but a few, as well as in treating a number of established cancers transplanted into mice, including, but not limited to, lymphoma, melanoma, prostrate, pancreatic and ovarian cancer.
Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties also mean that it’s used in the treatment of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation cites studies in which inflammation has been reduced by turmeric and so recommends 400mg-600mg of turmeric be taken three times per day to relieve inflammation and pain in the joints. As turmeric comprises at least 10 antioxidant molecules as well as 12 anti-inflammatory molecules, it’s also used to improve digestion. Since turmeric contains a minimum of 20 antibiotic molecules, it’s also applied topically to cleanse wounds or treat skin sores. Furthermore, clinical trials in China have shown that using turmeric to season food can reduce serum cholesterol levels and also lower blood pressure. In fact, in Chinese herbal medicine, turmeric is also given for jaundice, insomnia and as an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, particularly for shoulder pain.
Finally, you should note that turmeric, though well tolerated by almost anyone who takes it, does have some negative effects if taken in large quantities. These include irritation to the digestive system and possible formation of stomach ulcers, as well as thinning of the blood. As with all supplements, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and so forth, you should seek advice from your physician before taking them (particularly if you’re on any prescription medication) to ensure there won’t be any complications and your turmeric works to its maximum effect.