Turmeric is a spice indigenous in Southeast Asia, an area in which cancer incidence is quite low. Various studies have demonstrated that the spice, used in curry dishes, has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiproliferative functions in cells. To show the cancer-fighting effects of turmeric, researchers examined the anticancer properties of curcumin, a polyphenolic compound in turmeric that lends curry its yellow color. The research shows that curcumin attacks cancer stem cells (CSCs).

Cancer cell models propose different ways in which cancer cells grow to form a tumor:

  1. In the traditional cancer model, cancer cells are capable of self-renewal.
  1. But in the CSC model, it’s the stem cells that are responsible for renewing cancer cell lines. Furthermore, stem cells promote the heterogeneity of cancer cell types.

Based on the CSC model, a small number of stem cells (acting as parent cell lines) give rise to future populations of cancer cells. Researchers explained that in the CSC model surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy treat tumors; however, these treatments fail to get rid of the small subset of cancer stem cells.

As a result, the stem cells develop resistance to conventional treatments and give rise to future cancer cell lines that are more aggressive and invasive. Conventional treatments trigger stem cell lines to form malignant tumors, so researchers are exploring turmeric as a treatment option.

How does a spice used in curry dishes have an impact on cancer, especially sneaky stem cells that evade conventional treatments?

Data on the effects of turmeric show that it attacks cancer cells specifically while avoiding normal cells. And studies have shown that tumor cells take up curcumin at a higher rate than normal cells. Curcumin blocks the proliferation of tumor cells at the DNA level.

Turmeric supplements is an ideal cancer-blocking substance because it targets tumor cells through numerous pathways:

  1. Inhibits the CSCs ability to renew itself.
  2. Hinders the expression of microRNAs (regulates protein-coding genes) in CSCs to block the formation of tumors.
  3. Attacks cancer cells.
  4. Enhances chemotherapy.

Turmeric is a great spice to cook with because it’s selective for cancer cells, safe, affordable, and delicious. In my new book The Gene Therapy Plan, I provide tasty recipes that incorporate the robust, earthy flavors of turmeric, which can be used to add vibrant colors to smoothies, curry sauces, and rice dishes.

Li Y, Zhang T. Targeting Cancer Stem Cells by Curcumin and Clinical Applications. Cancer Letters. 2014.