Integrative health myths and facts: turmeric and cancer
The buzz on the internet is that turmeric can help prevent and/or cure cancer. As we begin exploring more integrative health options, many of these herbal supplements and “folk” medicines are reported as cures or alternative to mainstream medicine in the media and on the internet. But is there evidence-based research to back up the claims?
Turmeric is a shrub in the ginger family that can be found growing throughout Asia and parts of Africa. It is used in foods such as curry and mustards but is also available in capsules, teas, extracts and pastes for topical use (NCCIH, 2016). Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines use turmeric for various health issues (NCCIH, 2016).
There is little reliable evidence to support the use of turmeric for any health condition because few clinical trials have been conducted. More research is needed in order to better understand the role of turmeric, if any, in the prevention and treatment of cancer. Here are highlights from recent cancer research involving turmeric:
- Animal trials have found that the chemical found in turmeric, called curcumin, may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties (NCCIH, 2016).
- There have been human trials to see the efficacy of turmeric with colon cancer, prostate cancer and skin cancer. There is insufficient evidence at this time but results are being monitored (Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 2016).
- The National Institute of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has funded trials and basic cellular research to investigate the possible uses of turmeric (NCCIH, 2016).
Turmeric is generally safe for most people. However, there are some cases when a patient with health issues should use caution. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (2016) reports the following interactions:
- Turmeric has anti-platelet properties. It is considered a moderate risk for those who take anti-coagulant or anti-platelet medications because it may increase risk of bleeding. For surgery patients, it increases the risk of excessive bleeding so patients should discontinue use of turmeric at least 2 weeks prior to surgery.
- While considered a minor risk, there is evidence showing that turmeric interacts with several of the common chemotherapies used in cancer treatment including docetaxel (taxotere) and paclitaxel.
- Turmeric has a moderate risk of interacting with diabetes medication and increases the risk of hypoglycemia.
- In vitro research shows that turmeric may interfere with estrogen binding to its receptor. This could impact those who are being treated for hormone-related cancers.