The fact that turmeric can help to fight cancer isn’t exactly news, but a recently published study underscores its superiority by demonstrating the Asian spice’s potential to target some of the deadliest types of cancer while leaving healthy cells undisturbed.
Curcumin, the most active constituent in turmeric, is a powerful antioxidant and is responsible for most of the spice’s unique and powerful health benefits. Studies have already shown, for example, that curcumin can cut the growth rate of prostate cancer tumor progression in half. Other studies have found that supplementing with curcumin can lead to a 36 percent decline in lung tumor size and a 40 percent reduction in colon tumor development.
In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers used models to show how turmeric can inhibit the DYRK2 enzyme. With the help of x-ray crystallography, they obtained 3-D images that show curcumin binding to this enzyme atomically.
You might be wondering why we should be excited about this. It turns out that inhibiting the DYRK2 enzyme stops protein complexes known as proteasomes that are involved in cancer development. This action interferes with the proliferation of cancer cells, reducing tumors and slowing the cancer’s growth.
This is great news for sufferers of proteasome-addicted cancers, such as triple-negative breast cancer and multiple myeloma. These cancers depend on the proteasomes that curcumin inhibits for their survival. While pharmaceutical proteasome inhibitors do exist, they have the undesirable effect of also damaging noncancerous cells at the same time.
Curcumin, on the other hand, does this without damaging any healthy cells. Moreover, it carries very few side effects and can get the job done in smaller dosages.
Perhaps even more excitingly, this isn’t the only way that curcumin helps fight cancer. It can also stop the blood vessels that give tumors life from growing and developing, and it can turn off the genes that promote the development of tumors. At the same time, it can help your body’s immune system to find and destroy any malignant cells.
In addition, it can stop the production of the adhesion molecules that enable cancer cells to stick to cell walls. It also protects cell DNA from incurring cancerous mutations from environmental toxins and radiation. In other words, curcumin takes a multi-pronged approach to fighting cancer, seemingly trying to stop it at every turn.
Getting turmeric’s health benefits
In theory, turmeric has a lot of qualities that can help fight cancer. Adding this spice to your food won’t hurt, but it’s important to keep in mind that there are some bioavailability issues; dousing your food in turmeric doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ingesting vast amounts of curcumin.
When you eat turmeric, the curcumin inside it is broken down by your body very quickly and eliminated. Researchers are working on developing delivery methods of curcumin that give people the greatest benefits possible. For now, supplements are one of the best options, as long as you stick to high-quality, potent offerings that are organic and come from trusted sources. Some offer at least 95 percent curcuminoids, which is very impressive.
A compound known as piperine that is found in black pepper can dramatically improve your body’s absorption of turmeric, so look for supplements that also contain some piperine or add black pepper to any foods you cook with turmeric.
In addition, because it is fat soluble, it is better absorbed when it’s consumed along with some healthy fat. That’s why many people make golden milk by combining the spice with milk and warming it up. Using turmeric in dishes with coconut milk is another great way to boost absorbency. Heating it is also believed to increase curcumin’s solubility.
Turmeric is safe in general, but those with bile duct problems or gallstones should avoid it. It’s also important to discuss it with your doctor if you’re getting chemotherapy as it can interfere with certain chemo drugs.