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Effects of Turmeric on Cancer

Hanna Hartford



According to the CDC, the top five leading causes of death in the United States are heart

disease (633,842), cancer (595,930), chronic lower respiratory disease (155,041), unintentional

injuries from accidents (146,571), and stroke (140,323) for the most recent available year- 2015.
Cancer specifically has a profound impact on the American population beyond it being the

second leading cause of death. Cancer financially burdens the American economy to the tune of

eighty billion per year per year. 2 Cancer research collectively has invested large sums of money

into trying to find carcinogenic items, natural and artificial, that are a part of our day-to-day

lives. While the causes of cancer are numerous and vary, the potential treatments are equally

diverse. Environmental toxins are prevalent in the foods found in American grocery stores. The

typical American will ingest toxins that cause cancer and compounds that prevent cancer all in

the same day, or even the same meal. The modern American diet has been isolated as causing a

higher occurrence of cancer in comparison to other diets. 3 While much attention has been given

to removing carcinogenic materials from our lives, less has been given to adding natural

compounds, which may help to prevent cancer. Specifically, the spice turmeric has been

scientifically shown to possess many properties which can not only prevent cancer, but also can

prevent metastasis and treat mature tumors. Turmeric is a flowering plant with a bulbous root.

Turmeric has “been used as both a cooking spice and medicine for over 6000 years.” 4 The health

benefits of Turmeric are not completely known, as scientific research has failed to completely

understand its long-term effects. However, the research that has been done on it specifically and

the active compounds within have concluded that turmeric has the potential to prevent or cure

many human ailments. Particularly, turmeric has the potential to reverse one of the worst health

burdens on the United States and world generally- cancer. Adding turmeric to the diets of

Americans will help the cancer endemic in the nation through curcumin’s antioxidant

preventative and growth restrictive properties.

Cancer and cancer-causing agents

Cancer is a disease that originates from a gene mutation that occurs after birth. This gene

mutation causes cells to rapidly divide and metastasize, or spread, throughout the body. This

mutation over time can create a cancerous tumor. Cancer is typically caused by “smoking,

radiation, viruses, cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens), obesity, hormones, chronic

inflammation and a lack of exercise.” 5 The adverse effects of cancer on society are immense; as

already mentioned, the latent effects such as emotional and economic degradation can ruin

families and hurt society more generally. There are many other adverse impacts such as the

opportunity cost of great minds devoting their research efforts to cancer in lieu of other merit

worthy endeavors.

This great burden to humanity caused by cancer can be greatly alleviated by adjusting

diets to conform to known science on cancer. There is a correlation between obesity and cancer,

though not enough evidence exists to prove causation. Moreover, there is correlation between

certain diets and prevalence of cancer, though again, there is not provable causation. It is very

difficult to prove causation on a societal level. There is much less of a barrier to attaining enough

evidence to conclude causation between individual ingredients and cancer. There is a general

agreement in the scientific community on a number of carcinogens found in food. Among them

are chemicals such as ethanol, N-Nitrosodimethylamine, nitrosamines, DDT, and PhIP. 6 These

chemicals are found commonly in pesticides used on fruits, nuts, vegetables, and the food of

livestock, which leads to their presence of most animal products. Furthermore, the use of these

chemicals disseminates them into many levels of the ecosystem via streams, runoff, wind, etc.

which exposes almost all food producing areas.

Phytochemicals and cancer preventing agents

Research has led to many conclusions on not only carcinogens but also cancer fighting

compounds in foods. The notorious pungent odor of garlic is caused by the compound allicin

which “keep cell growth in check and help maintain healthy cell turnover” for the garlic.

Research has shown that it has the “ability to slow or stop the growth of tumors in prostate,

bladder, colon and stomach tissue.” Researchers have also pointed to the ascorbic acid

commonly found in citrus fruits for its potential to “trap free radicals and keeping cancer-causing

substances from forming.” The most frequently cited source of cancer fighting benefit found in

foods is derived from Phyto chemicals. 7

According to McWilliams in her text Foods Experimental Perspectives, Phytochemicals

are “compounds in food that have biological activity that may promote health benefits beyond

the effects of such nutrients as vitamins and minerals.” 8 The health benefits of these

phytochemicals include reduced risk for disease such as cardiovascular disease, eye disease, high

blood pressure, and cancer. 8 They accomplish this by blocking cancer growth, raising HDL

cholesterol, lowering LDL cholesterol, reducing inflammation, and a myriad of other health

benefits. 8 Sources of these phytochemicals can be found in many foods including orange, green

and red fruits, vegetables, oats, seeds, tea, wine, and beans.8 To name a few of these

phytochemicals: Beta glucan in oats, catechins in green tea, lignin in flax seed, and resveratrol in

red grapes and wine.8 These healthy chemicals and similar health benefiting compounds are

found in a wide spectrum of food items. emphasizing a diet rich in phytochemicals, or other

cancer preventing agents, as a proportion to foods known to have carcinogenic (cancer causing)

agents would very likely reduce the prevalence of cancer and other common ailments.

Turmeric and how it’s used around the world

Turmeric contains many of the cancer fighting properties described in the fore-mentioned

paragraphs. Turmeric is a small green leafy flowering plant with a bulbous root. The root is the

most commonly eaten part of the plant, being consumed raw, cooked or dried and ground.

Turmeric is native to all South and South Asia, though is consumed at the highest rate on the

Indian sub-continent. Turmeric has been used as a medicine in the Asian culture for thousands of

years. It has been used in topical ointment and brewed into teas to treat pain and other diseases.

The Indians primarily use raw turmeric roots and dried turmeric powder in their cooking. There

is unfortunately not enough research to properly measure the amount of consumption of turmeric

across different parts of the world. One such study that has been conducted in India claimed the

typical Indian will consume four grams of turmeric a day on average. The conductors of the

study made note of the differences in consumption that existed between economic conditions and

rural versus metropolitan living conditions. 4

According to a study conducted in 2008, men in India “Overall cancer rates in males

were three times higher for whites in the US than for Indians in India and Singapore.” 9 This

study does not attempt to provide a causation, as lifestyle, access to medicine, and numerous

other factors impact this assertion. However, it is certainly worth considering the medicinal diet

implications of certain regions or cultures that show a propensity to resist cancer. The same can

be said for cuisines that have higher cancer rates. The United States as a whole spends incredibly

large sums of money on medicine. Even the poorest of American citizens is provided via

Medicaid a level of medical care that is far above the quality or accessibility found in many

countries with lower cancer rates but much worse health care systems and economies. Moreover,

this fact points to the conclusion that factors such as diet and lifestyle have a large impact on

overall health, and the prevalence of cancer. The consumption of turmeric India having a

profound impact on its cancer rates may seem farfetched, until one considers the properties of it.

Turmeric has natural compounds within that have healing properties that have been

acknowledged by humans in medicines for thousands of years. Recent research has successfully

linked compounds within the root that have both preventative and treating characteristics against

cancerous tumors. If a large number of members of the American population were to incorporate

more turmeric into their diets than otherwise exposed to, there are undoubtedly positive results

that would be observed in the prevalence of cancer.

Curcumin, its role as a phytochemical

Of all the properties in turmeric, Curcumin, a phytochemical, has the highest antioxidant

effects. Curcumin is the phytochemical that gives turmeric its golden color, as well as its health

benefits. “It has been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiangiogenic, chemo

sensitizing, and apoptotic activity.” 4 Curcumin works by protecting “biomembranes against

peroxidative damage by scavenging reactive free radicals.” 4 The ability of curcumin to fight

cancer through these properties is boundless. The antioxidant properties are particularly

beneficial in preventing and treating cancer. Radiation and environmental toxins cause cancer by

freeing an electron in the molecules of human cells, resulting molecular mutations, and through

reproduction, a tumor. Antioxidants neutralize these free radicals and thereby directly reduce the

likelihood of cancer caused by these outside sources of mutation. 8 Curcumin anti-inflammatory

effects are nearly equally effective at fighting cancer. Inflammation has been claimed to be a

major contributing factor “in most modern disease processes including tumor development and

metastasis.” 10 The most direct form of cancer fighting properties in curcumin is its anti-

angiogenesis characteristics. Angiogenesis is the formation of new blood vessels which is crucial

for the growth and metastasis of cancerous tumors. Curcumin retards angiogenesis and thus

cancer growth by “inhibition of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).” 11 There may be

negative health implications for certain individuals that may result from the anti-angiogenesis

nature of turmeric. This is one of many factors that must be considered individually in terms of

recommending turmeric to a potential client. However, in terms of cancer, the benefits are clear.

The broad growth in consumption and inclusion in American diets of turmeric would lead to

fewer deaths from cancer due to the retardation of tumor metastasis.

Turmeric/Curcumin and its role with cancer

Modern surgical techniques are advancing due to technology at an exponential rate. The

rate of deaths from surgical complications per 100,000 has declined significantly over even a

very recent decade. From 1999 to 2009, the rate declined by 39% for patients that >85, and

declined by 28% for the age group 45-64 years old. 12 This ability to successfully remove a

localized tumor via surgical means has greatly improved the life span of people and continues to

do so. However, once a tumor has metastasized to multiple parts of the body, or to organs that

cannot be viably removed, surgeries become riskier and life spans are reduced. Turmeric’s

properties that prevent metastasizing will help increase the survivability of those diagnosed with

cancer. Furthermore, the anti-inflammatory and general health benefits will increase the patient’s

survivability from infections and other common issues that arise after surgeries. When the

immune system is weakened during chemo therapy treatment, turmeric will benefit the patient

through its ability to inhibit inflammation. The increased acceptability of chemo by the patient

will also hopefully prolong the amount of time a patient is able to endure the harsh side effects of

chemo, also thereby lessening the adverse effects of cancer. Surgical capabilities have magnified

the benefit of turmeric on cancer in society by increasing the period where surgery will have

prolonged successful results after initial tumor removal. If turmeric were to be advocated by

various cancer and health institutions, the outcome would reduce the costs of cancer treatment in

the country.

Turmeric and curcumin’s natural benefits that effect not only cancer but many other

severe and everyday ailments have been well researched, and even analyzed in academic and

professional studies. One clinical study’s data concluded that curcumin “consistently…

possesses anti-cancer activity.” 13 Another study documented in the journal Nutrition and Cancer

analyzed turmeric’s effect on forestomach tumors induced by benzopyrene concluded that

turmeric “significantly inhibited the …tumors.” This study used mice consuming turmeric at the

rate of three to five percent of their diet over the course of varying periods of time. They also

observed that reactions were dose and time dependent. 14 Another study specifically examined

the effects of turmeric on a carcinogen that is commonly found in poultry. Aflatoxin refers to

toxins and pollutants in animal feed. Some fungi found in feed has been associated with causing

cell damage and free radical production. In roaster chickens that were given turmeric in addition

to their normal diet, the turmeric “prevented the negative effects …associated with antioxidant,

immune and detoxification mechanisms.” 15 This evidence further demonstrates that broad health

enhancers that are associated with turmeric. Cancer is among many heath concerns that would be

positively impacted by the addition of turmeric to the diets of Americans.


While there are many roots, herbs, vegetables, seeds, oils, fungi, exotic creatures, and

other compounds that have beneficial characteristics for one’s health, turmeric is unquestionably

among the few that need serious consideration for advocation. When one considers the

overwhelming reach of cancer on the societies on every continent, the worth of a simple and

natural plant that can alleviate takes a greater importance. The larger scale acceptance of the

philosophy that food has a healing quality has the power to save medical cost and emotional pain

for many millions in this country. Turmeric is a very small but powerful part of that grand

puzzle. If individuals were to cease consuming carcinogens, or at least reduce consumption, and

simultaneously adopt delicious and simple ingredients that have proven powers to prevent and

treat disease, the magnified effect on society generally would be immense. Imagine the economic

production that would be yielded by workers on average taking 2 less sick days a year. There are

for round numbers a hundred million workers in this country, and if they produced 200 million

extra working days, the numbers begin to reflect the scale of foods impact on our health, and our

health’s impact on our lives as a whole. 16 If turmeric were to prevent cancer from killing just one

young mother from Breast cancer, its advocacy would be worth it. If turmeric allowed just one

more father to sees his daughter’s marriage, it would be worth it. It is worth it to advocate the

healing powers of turmeric and many other great natural foods on our bodies.

Application to practice

If one were to take a trip to their grocery store, they might find turmeric packaged and

produced several different ways. Most grocery stores carry turmeric as a ground spice, turmeric

supplements, and turmeric used in other products such as curry powder. These items are not very

costly, around $2.50 for a small container of the ground spice. The raw turmeric root is also sold

at a much higher price, around $10 per pound, and is mostly found at organic and health food

grocery stores. Also found at health food grocery stores is a product called “turmeric milk”

which is a traditional Indian milk drink, with added sugar and turmeric. 4 Turmeric can be

incorporated in the body not only as a daily supplement, but in many sweet and savory dishes. It

can be used as a spice rub to season meat. It could be incorporated in a salad dressing. One could

mix the spice in with butter to make turmeric butter. It can be added to a smoothie or yogurt for

color, flavor, and health benefits. People in India even incorporate it into their sweet deserts,

such as pudding, with other spices, commonly cinnamon and ginger. 4 In Phase 1 trials, studies

have been conducted to evaluate the upper limit of turmeric in humans. Thus far they have

deemed these trials successful and have now moved on to phase 2 studies. Of all the trials

conducted, 8000 mg per day was the highest dose given, and still no toxicity was reported. 13

They deem this as successful for no toxicity and no upper limit for turmeric. They also conclude

this because it would be very difficult for one to exceed this limit in one day. It is usually

difficult to even one to come close to consuming that much turmeric per day. This means there

may be an upper limit of turmeric at some point, too much of anything can kill you, but no one

has yet to consume any dangerous levels. Recommendation of turmeric should be as a daily

supplement or spice to every client as it has been shown to act as an antioxidant and possess

many other health benefits that all people could benefit from. Since there is no upper limit, and

no reports of negative interactions with drugs, it should be suggested it to all. Give emphasis on

daily use for people with very poor diets and lifestyles that include multiple carcinogenic.

Another key is to focus on people with a history of cancer in their family. The daily turmeric will

help prevent on from getting cancer by inhibiting metastasis and inducing apoptosis often in the

body. 2 Turmeric has been shown to have negative effects on other diseases as well, so it’s also

best to recommend to people with respiratory disease, ocular disease, pancreatic disease, hepatic

disease, gastric disease, and diabetes. 2


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September 2012. Accessed February 2018

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genes associated with biotransformation, antioxidant, and immune systems in broiler

chicks fed aflatoxin. Poultry Science. December 2009; 88: 2620–2627

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