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Carcinogen Blocking Effects of Turmeric

Less than a teaspoon a day of turmeric appears to significantly lower the DNA mutating ability of cancer-causing substances.

March 14, 2014 |
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Sources Cited

Acknowledgements

Images thanks to Barnes24 via Wikimedia Commons; and Saxluvr via clker.com.

Transcript

We are increasingly aware that plant-derived substances, often referred to as chemopreventive agents, substances that help prevent cancer, as opposed to chemotherapy, substances aimed at treating cancer. These substances are not only inexpensive, they are also easy available, and have no or limited toxicity.

Since 1987, the National Cancer Institute has tested more than a thousand different potential agents for chemopreventive activity, of which only a few dozen were moved to clinical trials. Curcumin, present in the Indian spice turmeric, which is used in curry powder, is one such agent that is currently under clinical investigation for cancer chemoprevention.

According to their mode of action, chemopreventive agents are classified into different subgroups: antiproliferatives, antioxidants, or carcinogen-blockers. Curcumin belongs to all three, given its multiple mechanisms of action.

Curcumin appears to play a role helping to block every stage of cancer transformation, proliferation, and invasion, but may even help before carcinogens even get to our cells. A study back in 1987 investigated the effects of curcumin on the mutagenicity, the DNA mutating ability of several toxins, and they found that curcumin was an effective antimutagen against several environmental and standard mutagenic and cancer-causing substances, but this was in vitro, from the Latin meaning "in glass" meaning in a test tube or petri dish. What about in people? Well it's not like you take a group of people and expose them to some nasty carcinogen just so you can give half of them turmeric and see what happens. Well you could wait until some toxic waste spill happens or nuclear accident, but otherwise you're not going to find people who would voluntarily expose themselves to carcinogens, unless… smokers! We can just test it on smokers. They've got carcinogens coursing through their veins every day.

If you take some smokers, and have them pee on some bacteria, this is the number of DNA mutations that arise. Remember, all life is encoded by DNA, whether bacteria, banana, or bunnyrabbit. It's easier though, when measuring urinary mutagens, to just pee on some bacteria.

The urine of nonsmokers caused far fewer DNA mutations. Makes sense, they have fewer chemicals running through their system. And if you have them eat some turmeric for a month, nothing really happens. But what if you do the same for smokers? Fifteen days later they're down to here, and 30 days down to here. And this was not some concentrated curcumin supplement, but just plain turmeric like you'd buy at the store, and less than a teaspoon a day, indicating that dietary turmeric is an effective anti-mutagen. You'll note though, on this graph, that there's an even more effective anti-mutagen, not smoking. Even eating turmeric for a month, the DNA-damaging power of smoker pee exceeded that of nonsmokers.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org.

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

This is second of a three-part video series on turmeric curcumin and its relationship to cancer. To find out more, check out the prequel Back to Our Roots: Curry and Cancer and the last video in the series Turmeric Curcumin Reprogramming Cancer Cell Death.

Smokers are common research subjects for carcinogen studies. For example, see what happens to carcinogen levels when those eating processed meat start eating vegetarian in my video Heterocyclic Amines in Eggs, Cheese, and Creatine?

Other foods that may protect DNA include kiwifruit (Kiwifruit and DNA Repair), cruciferous vegetables (DNA Protection from Broccoli), leafy vegetables (Eating Green to Prevent Cancer), garlic (Cancer, Interrupted: Garlic & Flavonoids), green tea (Cancer, Interrupted: Green Tea (but which is better? Antimutagenic Activity of Green Versus White Tea), and plants in general (Repairing DNA Damage).

More information on cancer prevention, treatment, and reversal can be found in my two latest annual presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day: Combating Common Diseases.

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Liz H

    I’m not a huge fan of the flavor of turmeric. I mix turmeric and black pepper and put the mixture into veg-caps. Does this deliver the same nutritional benefit as eating turmeric in food since this method bypasses the enzymes in the mouth. I’ve read that mouth enzymes start the breakdown of certain nutrients.

    • Alexander Kramer

      I think Dr. Greger mentions in a previous video that turmeric/black pepper should be cooked to get most value.

    • Devin Wiesner

      On the topic of digestion in the mouth, one of the benefits of consuming the actual food is that water-soluble nutrients are actually absorbed in the mouth, going directly into the blood stream, by-passing certain metabolic processes, through sublingual absorption. As Alex mentioned, cooking turmeric increases the water solubility of curcumin….Black pepper increases the bioavailability of turmeric and other chemicals in your food…So be sure that you are minimizing your use of plastics and consumption of animals products (especially fish) and conventional non-organic foods.

  • BB

    I make a curry-hummus with chickpeas, lemon, black pepper, curry powder and turmeric. This is a good way to get the spices without having to cook.

    • Roy

      What?!? No garlic?

      • BB

        Oh yes, garlic and tahini along with the spices.

        • val

          hell YES…get that raw garlic in there too!

    • Coacervate

      If you like extra sour/tart you might try a pinch of tartaric acid. I actually use pH meter to bring it down to 4 that way. We found it more “exciting” than overloading with lemon.

    • Becky Dodge Lipka

      What is your recipe for the hummus??

    • b00mer

      BB: I also make a similar “curry” hummus, with a few tweaks: chickpeas/white beans, curry powder, garlic, soy sauce, sriracha, lime juice and zest. Great over rice and steamed broccoli. A few sesame seeds sprinkled atop is nice too. Good idea adding the black pepper. I never put pepper in my regular hummus so I never even thought of that. Will try it next time.

  • Rick Zonker

    Can I take cucurmin supplements and get the same cancer fighting effects as I would with the powder???

  • Ted Crystal

    This conclusion supports that old adage: you can’t eat a cheeseburger and take a pill.

    • HemoDynamic, M.D.

      Funny, one of my co-workers (D.O.) says you can do this. He even told one of our patients (an elderly female >80 years old)) that if you don’t eat meat you will NOT get enough protein and your bones will break! Even made her cry. Unbelievable you may think, but true! He told her she is wasting her time with this plant-based stuff and put her back on Fish Oil and Statin’s even though she is now 99% low fat, plant based. Ridiculous I say!

      “Oh, what sad times are these when passing ruffians can say Ni at will to old ladies.” Roger the Shrubber–The Holy Grail.

      • Plantstrongdoc M.D.

        Let me guess – your co-worker is fat, hypertensive, on statins and general ignorant….

        • Arjan den Hollander.

          Hehehe, +1

        • HemoDynamic, M.D.

          Interestingly, he is not fat but he does take blood pressure and cholesterol medication. He does choose to remain ignorant because he likes eating meat so much. And if his ignorance is at the expense of his patients he doesn’t really care.
          We even created a before and after video for our office of the patients showing reversal of their diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, acid reflux, rheumatoid arthritis, and he has seen the video and seen our other patients and still says this to his patients.
          Oy vey!

          • Plantstrongdoc M.D.

            Sadly nothing new: “Louis Pasteurs theory of germs is ridiculous fiction” Professor Pierre Pachet, 1872.

          • Chris_B

            Glad you mentioned acid reflux. I didn’t realize it until I ran across a bottle of antacids but after a lifelong battle with heartburn it went away when I stopped eating meat. I was still eating fish, dairy and eggs but thanks to this site and Freeley the Bannana Girl https://www.youtube.com/user/Freelea I stopped eating all animal products in one day after trying to taper for a couple of years.

      • Thea

        HemoDynamic: That’s really such a tragic story. My heart feels so bad for that patient you talked about. Also, I feel bad for you because you see what is going on and it has to be frustrating.

        Well, your participation on this site is much appreciated by us more enlightened people. You definitely make a difference!

        • HemoDynamic, M.D.

          That is very kind of you Thea. Yes it is very frustrating for me but I think more so for the patient. She is now thoroughly confused. She feels much better on the plant-based diet then she ever did eating The traditional American way but because of the doctor she is confused as to which way she should be eating. She even went from full-blown diabetic on multiple medications to now off all her medications and only in the prediabetic range. Sad, sad, sad that a physician places their ego and ignorance above the research.

          • Vaneta

            Has anyone suggested she goes to a different doctor, one that is not narrow minded and more into nutrition?

          • HemoDynamic, M.D.

            Very good question and yes we did suggest that she see someone else and that someone else was actually me because I work in the same office. (We have a dietitian and that is what he recommended.) However she has had this physician for over 10 years and really likes him (?… That’s what she said) and is having a hard time making the decision to come see someone that supports her lifestyle rather than break off a long time relationship.
            For many of us we see that she has a choice but some people don’t see that they have that option.

        • The Dude

          Yes!

  • aviweiss

    How do items such as tumeric SURVIVE the digestive process and find its way to the carcinogens in question?

    • Coacervate

      I’ll take a shot…the digestive process is focused on breaking down the 3 major food groups, fats, carbs and proteins. Most are macromolecules that need to be reduced to their constituent subunits so they can be absorbed and metabolized (or anabolized).

      Curcumin (from turmeric) is a relatively small, fat soluble molecule that is not a target for the digestive enzymes so it get absorbed along with other fats and fatty acids.

      I think.

  • Tobias Brown

    Big question for most followers of your work is: How important is such consumption if we have a very clean diet to begin with. Maybe just occasional use or very small amounts can be useful while regular consumption in higher amounts might not provide such a benefit???

    • Devin Wiesner

      Piperine, the compound in black pepper that has the effect in question, increases the bioavailability of other nutrients too. For the vast majority of people increased absorption of curcumin, other curcuminoids, isothiocyanates (in cruciferous vegetables), catechins (such as EGCG) etc…would be of significant benefit, not just to avoid chronic and acute diseases, but for general immune system health as well.

    • Devin Wiesner

      The way I look at it, most of my life I was exposed to carcinogenic chemicals, from not just food and packaging but from environmental toxins as well. Also, my parents consumed chemicals that were accumulated in their bodies and transferred to me in the placenta. I eat a clean diet today, however I likely have tumors that started growing years ago. So I eat turmeric and green tea leaves daily, and black pepper too, to enhance bioavailability.

      • Ben

        Do you mind if I ask what brand of Matcha you are consuming? I was using a brand that I think might be contaminated. The DNA brand on Amazon that is advertised as organic but really is not.

        • Devin Wiesner

          I buy organic white tea from the Makaibari estate in India. You can special order it from Frontiercoop, either online or at your natural foods grocer.

          Just be sure to check the origin of the tea as, for example, they offer white tea from multiple sources. I add the white tea leaves to my daily smoothie and steep them to make tea as well.

          This link documents their sources: http://crc.frontiercoop.com/sellsheets/FR_TeaProgram_SS.pdf

          If you value fresh tea a small company called
          “Silver Tips Tea” is the official importer for Makaibari and likely offers more recent harvests and a larger selection.

    • b00mer

      I think I may have a similar outlook to you. In my diet, I focus on everything that makes up my diet being nutrient dense, but I don’t focus on amounts of any single foods or nutrients. I used to want to consume large amounts of all of these “super” foods and nutrients that are profiled in these studies, but a few studies Dr. Greger highlighted changed that: one was about spinach and one was about mushrooms. What was interesting to me were the amounts needed that were calculated by the researchers to get the dramatic reductions in whatever disease they were studying: it ended up being a few spinach leaves per day, and half a mushroom per day. This made me think that it’s more about consistent, steady consumption, sort of like making sure you take a medication at recommended intervals, rather than absolute amounts.

      Also, when you think of all of the healthiest peoples around the globe, some of them might be consuming turmeric every day, but they’re just eating it in their food, not supplements. All of the epidemiological studies that promote all of the amazing clinical and in vitro work on these nutrients are following people just living and cooking normally, not taking supplements of these foods. And other healthiest peoples aren’t eating turmeric at all. They might be consuming cocoa every day, or seaweed, or italian herbs, or central american spices, etc. So even beyond not taking a supplement, I don’t even worry about eating turmeric every day, because if I’m not eating turmeric I’m eating some other flavor profile with other extremely healthful herbs and spices.

      So personally, if my diet (which consists of *a lot* of food) is made *entirely* out of a variety of nutrient dense and health promoting foods, then that’s good enough for me and I don’t feel the need to intentionally consume more of anything in supplemental form. But that’s just me. For people who do like to, keep on keepin on. Not trying to dissuade anyone from doing so.

  • Jean

    Is there anything besides black pepper to use to increase the bioavailability of turmeric and other chemicals in your food?

  • guest

    does the black pepper need to be eaten with the turmeric at the same time, or can its effect still work on the turmeric even if eaten hours in between?

  • Evan

    Interesting according to NIH ” In India, rates for oral and oesophageal cancers are some of the highest in the world. In contrast, the rates for colorectal, prostate, and lung cancers are one of the lowest.” I was expecting lowest across the board due to the high use of Tumeric.

    • Merio

      it seems that there is an elevate tobacco consumption in India…
      http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/12/4/e4.long

    • Devin Wiesner

      Relevant factors according to a study looking at oesophageal cancer in India (link below): “a poor, rural lifestyle and general deprivation in vitamins and oligoelements; the use of copper utensils in cooking, the consumption of spicy, deep fried foodstuffs, and the drinking of hot salty tea; exposure to high levels of dietary nitrosamines from diverse sources.” Overall, these three components are similar to the general pattern of factors in the so-called “esophageal cancer belt”. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3068781/

  • Sebastian Tristan

    Turmeric is very important for people who practice a lot of sports due to its inflammation-fighting abilities. I even add some to my oatmeal, making sure that overall I don’t consume more than a teaspoon.

  • Coacervate

    Yes this is true but tobacco makes me look like C Eastwood, feel relaxed and i get off on making bacteria mutate. …A Darwin Award? For moi? Well, Thank you, thank you very much!

  • http://www.eatandbeatcancer.com/ Harriet Sugar Miller

    Check out this recipe for Indalian Onions, combining the best of Italy and India. The cumin along with the Italian flavors totally mask the
    turmeric’s taste.

    http://eatandbeatcancer.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/anti-cancer-recipes-indalian-onions/#more-2904

  • Jenny M

    I had a friend who was eating turmeric daily…until her hair dresser asked her why her grey/white hair was yellowing….is this due to overuse?

  • todd

    why should i eat turmeric if (according to the graph) my rate of dna mutation (since i am a nonsmoker) will remain unchanged?

    • Devin Wiesner

      Consumption of turmeric may prevent a wide range of diseases and will boost your immune system to help your body fight bacterial and viral infections. If you were to do a search on turmeric in Pubmed you would see that there is research (2700 studies) showing that turmeric is effective against a wide range of cancers, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Barbara Bogart

    How important is it to use organic turmeric powder or fresh root? I’ve heard that irradiating spice kills the beneficial nutrients. Is this true?

  • Laurie Conrad

    I like to add it to tofu and make a scramble.

  • BennyB