Back to Our Roots: Curry & Cancer

Back to Our Roots: Curry & Cancer
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Dramatically lower cancer rates in India may in part be attributable to their more plant-based, spice-rich diet.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

It is estimated that tumors start around the age of 20, yet “detection of cancer is normally around the age of 50 or later.” Thus, it takes cancer decades to incubate. Why does it take so long? Recent studies indicate that in any given type of cancer, hundreds of different genes must be modified to change a normal cell into a cancer cell. “Although cancers are characterized by the dysregulation of cell signaling pathways at multiple steps, most current anticancer therapies involve the modulation of a single target.”

Chemotherapy has gotten incredibly specific, but the “ineffectiveness, lack of safety, and high cost of [these] monotargeted therapies” has led to real disappointment, and drug companies are now trying to develop chemo drugs that take a more multitargeted approach. As a result, many pharmaceutical companies are increasingly interested in developing “multitargeted” therapies.

“Many plant-based products, however, accomplish multitargeting naturally and, in addition, are inexpensive and safe compared to [drugs]. However, because [drug] companies are not usually able to secure intellectual property rights to [plants], the development of plant-based anticancer therapies has not been prioritized.” They may work; they may work better, for all we know. They may be safer; they may actually be safe, period.

If you were going to choose one plant-based product to start testing, one might choose curcumin, the pigment in the spice turmeric—the reason curry powder looks yellow.

Well, before you start throwing money at research, you might want to start asking some basic questions, like, do populations that eat a lot of turmeric have lower cancer rates? “The incidence of cancer [does appear to be] significantly lower in regions where turmeric is heavily consumed.” “[Population-based] data indicate that some extremely common cancers in the Western world are much less prevalent in regions…where turmeric is widely consumed in the diet. For example, “[o]verall cancer rates are much lower in India than in western countries.”

Much lower. U.S. men get 23 times more prostate cancer than men in India. Americans get between 8 and 14 times the rate of melanoma, 10 to 11 times more colorectal cancer, 9 times more endometrial cancer, 7 to 17 times more lung cancer, 7 to 8 times more bladder cancer, 5 times more breast cancer, and 9 to12 times more kidney cancer. And this is not like 5, 10, or 20% more, but times more. So hundreds of percent more breast cancer, thousands of percent more prostate cancer—differences even greater than some of those found in the China Study.

“Because Indians account for one-sixth of the world’s population, and have some of the highest spice consumption in the world, epidemiologic studies in this country have great potential for improving our understanding of the relationship between diet and cancer.”

Of course, it may not be the spices. “Several dietary factors may contribute to the low overall rate of cancer in India. Among them are a relatively low intake of meat, a mostly plant-based diet,” in addition to the “high intake of spices.” Forty percent of Indians are vegetarians, and even the ones that do eat meat don’t eat a lot.

And, it’s not only what they don’t eat, but what they do. India is one of the largest producers and consumers of fresh fruits and vegetables, and they eat a lot of pulses, meaning legumes—beans, chickpeas, and lentils. And, it’s not just turmeric; they eat a wide variety of spices, which constitute, by weight, the most antioxidant-packed class of foods in the world.

Population studies can’t prove a correlation between dietary turmeric and decreased cancer risk, but certainly inspired a bunch of research. So far, curcumin has been tested against a variety of human cancers, including colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast, prostate, multiple myeloma, lung cancer, and head and neck cancer—for both prevention and treatment. We’ll look at some of that research, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Eunice and megabeth via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

It is estimated that tumors start around the age of 20, yet “detection of cancer is normally around the age of 50 or later.” Thus, it takes cancer decades to incubate. Why does it take so long? Recent studies indicate that in any given type of cancer, hundreds of different genes must be modified to change a normal cell into a cancer cell. “Although cancers are characterized by the dysregulation of cell signaling pathways at multiple steps, most current anticancer therapies involve the modulation of a single target.”

Chemotherapy has gotten incredibly specific, but the “ineffectiveness, lack of safety, and high cost of [these] monotargeted therapies” has led to real disappointment, and drug companies are now trying to develop chemo drugs that take a more multitargeted approach. As a result, many pharmaceutical companies are increasingly interested in developing “multitargeted” therapies.

“Many plant-based products, however, accomplish multitargeting naturally and, in addition, are inexpensive and safe compared to [drugs]. However, because [drug] companies are not usually able to secure intellectual property rights to [plants], the development of plant-based anticancer therapies has not been prioritized.” They may work; they may work better, for all we know. They may be safer; they may actually be safe, period.

If you were going to choose one plant-based product to start testing, one might choose curcumin, the pigment in the spice turmeric—the reason curry powder looks yellow.

Well, before you start throwing money at research, you might want to start asking some basic questions, like, do populations that eat a lot of turmeric have lower cancer rates? “The incidence of cancer [does appear to be] significantly lower in regions where turmeric is heavily consumed.” “[Population-based] data indicate that some extremely common cancers in the Western world are much less prevalent in regions…where turmeric is widely consumed in the diet. For example, “[o]verall cancer rates are much lower in India than in western countries.”

Much lower. U.S. men get 23 times more prostate cancer than men in India. Americans get between 8 and 14 times the rate of melanoma, 10 to 11 times more colorectal cancer, 9 times more endometrial cancer, 7 to 17 times more lung cancer, 7 to 8 times more bladder cancer, 5 times more breast cancer, and 9 to12 times more kidney cancer. And this is not like 5, 10, or 20% more, but times more. So hundreds of percent more breast cancer, thousands of percent more prostate cancer—differences even greater than some of those found in the China Study.

“Because Indians account for one-sixth of the world’s population, and have some of the highest spice consumption in the world, epidemiologic studies in this country have great potential for improving our understanding of the relationship between diet and cancer.”

Of course, it may not be the spices. “Several dietary factors may contribute to the low overall rate of cancer in India. Among them are a relatively low intake of meat, a mostly plant-based diet,” in addition to the “high intake of spices.” Forty percent of Indians are vegetarians, and even the ones that do eat meat don’t eat a lot.

And, it’s not only what they don’t eat, but what they do. India is one of the largest producers and consumers of fresh fruits and vegetables, and they eat a lot of pulses, meaning legumes—beans, chickpeas, and lentils. And, it’s not just turmeric; they eat a wide variety of spices, which constitute, by weight, the most antioxidant-packed class of foods in the world.

Population studies can’t prove a correlation between dietary turmeric and decreased cancer risk, but certainly inspired a bunch of research. So far, curcumin has been tested against a variety of human cancers, including colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast, prostate, multiple myeloma, lung cancer, and head and neck cancer—for both prevention and treatment. We’ll look at some of that research, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Eunice and megabeth via flickr

Doctor's Note

This is the first in a three-part video series on turmeric and cancer. Be sure to check out the next two videos: Carcinogen-Blocking Effects of Turmeric Curcumin and Turmeric Curcumin Reprogramming Cancer Cell Death

I’m working on many other videos on turmeric, this amazing spice. Here are a few:

Amla, dried Indian gooseberry powder, is another promising dietary addition:

I add amla to my Pink Juice with Green Foam recipe. Not all natural products from India are safe, though. See, for example, Some Ayurvedic Medicine Worse than Lead Paint Exposure.

For more on the antioxidant concentration in spices in general, see Antioxidants in a Pinch. Why do antioxidants matter? See Food Antioxidants & Cancer and Food Antioxidants, Stroke, & Heart Disease.

Which fruits and vegetables might be best? See #1 Anticancer Vegetable and Best Fruits for Cancer Prevention.

If there are other herbs or spices you’d like me to cover, please let me know in the comments section below.

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

64 responses to “Back to Our Roots: Curry & Cancer

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  1. Really enjoyed your video on gargling with salt water. I’d love to see a video about something all my friends have been talking about lately called “Oil pulling,” a strange process whereby people swish around coconut oil (among others) in their mouth for twenty minutes a day. I think it is a dubious practice, but they claim it has numerous benefits.

    As far as spices and herbs go, a video on why some people can’t stand the smell of curry, and what to do to increase their tolerance, would be great! I love curry, but my wife does not like the smell of it when I cook, or when we go out to the Indian restaurant.




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    1. Martin, I would love to see some discussion of this too. I have oral lichen planus and am in several Facebook groups for it. Several people swear by oil pulling, but I’m also skeptical of its benefits. But if it does help, I would like to know more about why.




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      1. Oil pulling has been around for thousands of
        years, it’s an old Ayurvedic practice. I started the practice in Jan. of
        2015 and the results have been superb! I had gum disease since grade
        school, and that has cleared up… or at least the bleeding gums. Other benefits often noted are noticeable whitening of
        teeth, fresh breath, and an oral detox – confirmed from personal experience. A pleasant surprise was a clearing up of the sinuses,
        so I’m now breathing regularly from my noise for the 1st time in
        maybe 35+ years. Google “oil pulling”
        and “Utube” and you can see several videos.
        I intend to make this a lifelong practice.




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    2. Have you tried different curry powders, from different regions (north Indian, south Indian, Nepalese, Sri Lankan, etc)? I was convinced for most of my life that I hated curry, until I found one I like just in the last year or so. It’s less of a earthy musty smell and more of a smell like seasoned salt if that makes any sense. With that I can make a curry that tastes good to me, though I still prefer a higher ratio of turmeric and cumin to the curry powder. Also of course you can just eat the turmeric and skip the curry powders. Does she dislike turmeric as well? For me, I always liked turmeric; it’s something else in curry powders that I don’t care for.

      Also, adding something like coconut milk can definitely improve the flavor of the curry, but of course some people (including me) don’t like to consume that much fat on a regular basis. I do make a curry with lite coconut milk every great once in a while and it’s divine.




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    3. I don’t like the smell of curry, but we prepare this to add to food after it has been made (should not be heated): Olive oil with powdered turmeric, black pepper, red paprika, garlic, ginger and some hot red pepper.




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    4. Hi Martin… I’m not an expert, but there’s no need to make “curry” to get the benefits of turmeric. The curry taste is mostly because of the other spices that are added. You could add turmeric to hummus, for example. We also typically beat it into eggs before we make an omelette. You could use it to marinate chicken/fish.




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  2. For those of us who learn better through reading, could you also publish a transcript to accompany the video or just do transcript without video. Thanks.




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    1. Rin: Already done! Look under the videos and you will see a line that says “Transcript”. You can click to expand that section. You won’t get the graphs and pictures, but you can get the words and then look at the video later if you want to see the graphs.




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    2. Not sure if this would be helpful for you, but in addition to the transcript Thea mentions, there are also captions available if you click the CC in the lower right corner of the video. Mine seem to be automatically turned on for the videos on this site; I’m not sure if that’s true for everyone visiting the site or if that’s just my computer.




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  3. Someone whose judgement I trust, mentioned they had very good results – prevention of the frequent colds they had experienced – from Olive Leaf Extract – and natural Antibiotic. Thoughts/Experience/Opinion? Thank you!




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  4. Thank you very much. Evidence comes from different quarters: labs, clinical research…demographics. By drawing these elements of research together you provide us with the tools to make our own decisions. There are never guarantees … except from the dark side. FWIW, my problems with kidney stones disappeared when I went WF/PB but my intake of turmeric went up at least a hundred fold. So far so good. I wonder if curry eaters have yellow brains!




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    1. Broccoli: If memory serves, the last survey I saw put 4% of Americans as (true) vegetarian and an additional 1% as true vegan. I say “true”, because some people label themselves as say vegetarian, but actually still eat fish or even poultry. So, not a vegetarian… The survey I saw was careful not to ask people how they labeled themselves, but instead asked questions along the lines of, “In the last X months, have you eaten any meat, poultry or fish?”

      The neat thing is that while the numbers are still relatively low, they are growing every year. As another poster pointed out a little time ago, if we reach a “tipping point”, a healthy whole plant food based diet might quickly expand and become the norm. It seems like we actually might reach that tipping point, though I don’t know when. That’s just my thoughts on the matter.

      Good question.




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    1. Harriet: Thanks for sharing! I haven’t tried it yet, but I wrote it down and hope to give it a shot in the not too distant future. It helped that you gave some ideas on how to use it. (Ex: on onions, etc.)




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  5. You are right the pharmaceutical companies don’t own the patent’s to plants yet but I’m sure Monsanto, Dow Chemicals etc have already addressed this potentially multi-trillion dollar market.

    No facts for this just, my cynical-hunch side coming through.

    If they own the seeds, they own the plants, they own the treatment! Yikes!




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      1. i want to say that as an unique mankind we got to write a law that severly restrict plant genetic manipulation… and it is really funny to see Monsanto and co struggling for patents but avoiding the labeling… Why ?




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        1. While we are squabbling about labels, genetic drift and contamination of conventional and organic crops by GM crops is occurring globally 24/7, and of course they are more than fine with that. At this point it is utterly naive to believe that is not part of their business plan. This ongoing plague makes it the darkest, yet most urgent and critical issue of our time. If all the facts were clear and out in the open would ANYONE consent to using their gut as a laboratory? REJECT and BOYCOTT all GMO-containing products!




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            1. Thank YOU, Jerio and Jazzfeed,
              Let’s all do it. Lets all boycott ALL GMO-containing products. Comeon people now, join with your people and we can help one another RIGHT NOW~~~
              This is easy stuff for us to do. JUST DO IT! swoosh!
              Elizabeth in NY~




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  6. Dr. Greger:
    Thanks for this information. I like to read the sources after viewing your videos, and none of the sources today focus on cancer rates in India. Could you direct me to any articles that talk about these amazing statistics? I’d like to learn more.
    Thanks, Pete Greider.




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  7. I have a question for Dr. Greger or any of the experts. My dad was recently diagnosed with systemic lung nodules brought on by chrondrosarcoma in his arm. The chrondrosarcoma was removed by surgery, however the the nodules in his lungs are too spread out and small to be removed by surgery. Furthermore, chemotherapy (I have been told my oncologists) is not normally effective against lung nodules.

    Are there specific foods (and the amount) that he can eat to help combat this type of cancer?
    Thank you




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  8. I eat more than a teaspoon of turmerc cucumin each day. A sore on my cheek is in regression now. May have been cancer, now it is a scab, which may be gone in a few weeks.




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  9. I was directed to this video when I clicked on bladder health. I know that one of the natural causes of death for men is kidney failure due to prostate enlargement preventing emptying of the bladder. What can men in their 60s for instance, do to decrease their prostate enlargement, evidenced by frequent need to urinate and incomplete emptying of the bladder? I know health food stores promote supplements. Are any safe and effective? Thanks for all you do to help us stay healthy.




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  10. For those having trouble with the curry smell, make your own and you can get it the way you want. I don’t buy any blends pre-made. For my curry, I use 3 parts coriander, 2 parts cumin, and 1 part turmeric. Depending on what you like, you can adjust this to taste. Sometimes, I may also add a dash of cayenne pepper depending on how hot I want it.




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  11. Has Dr. Greger done any work on “Vitamin B-17” or Amygdalin? I had a family member asking about it in reference to pancreatic cancer…




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  12. What about correcting for average age of death when you look at cancer……Chad has very low cancer rate, but average life expectancy is 49.81? India average life expectancy is 68, but does well in the cancer arena. Average life expectancy in US is 79.7. Could this extra decade of the average life span be why we see such a difference in cancer rates?




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  13. I have a friend with multiple myeloma who was instructed not to take turmeric/curcumin during her chemo/stem cell replacement.
    Another friend with advanced inoperable pancreatic cancer is about to undertake chemo.
    Is tumeric/curcumin safe or contraindicated in either of these cases ?

    If it’s 100% safe is there a recommended dosage and advice regarding how to take it ?

    JLK Sydney Australia




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  14. Dear dear family member, age 33 was just diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer (maybe non small cell but not sure yet. Lymph node involvement and multiple tumors in the brain. Sent her your turmeric video but then found this article that seems to suggest it would be bad for lung cancer pts. Don’t want to give wrong info. Love Dr. G and have heard him speak three times. Please advise. Thanks. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2691137/




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  15. Sharyn,

    I’m very sorry to hear of your family members diagnosis. I appreciate your inclusion of the article and would suggest it’s exclusive to rat models, which may not be applicable considering the large amount of human cell studies. Also as a side note the definitive diagnosis of what form of cancer will also have an effect on the treatment options.

    There is a fair amount of confirmatory information, mostly in human cell studies such as: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3392043/ and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4675518/ regarding the utility for a number of cancers as discussed in the video. Also there are toxicity studies that reinforce the lack of toxicity at normal intakes, see: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3535097/

    There is still an ongoing issue of do you use the turmeric powder with all the constituents vs the isolated chemicals. To further complicate the conversation absorption is a big deal, however with a fatty meal might be a simple solution.

    The newest advances in treatment for certain lung diseases are the immunotheraputic agents. In a number of the studies using curcumin/turmeric they seem to be very synergetic with the chemotherapies. To be clear there does not appear to be any studies using the newest products and curcumin/turmeric. With that said I would encourage your family member to have a discussion with an open minded physician and consider the use of turmeric coupled with immunotheraputics. You can find additional information at: http://www.cancercenter.com/lung-cancer/immunotherapy/. My experiences with CC of America has been very positive, and I would discuss the integration of this herbal approach with them.

    Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger




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    1. Thanks doctor. I have forwarded on the information. I did note your suggestion of taking the turmeric along with a fatty meal. Can I assume that that would mean the likes of knots and avocados on a plant-based diet?
      ex again so much for your time. Sharyn




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  16. Hello,
    I’m hoping you can help me. I underwent brain stem surgery last July. It was a grade II Ependymoma in the 4th ventricle. I was in the Air Force from 1987-1991 and worked in a print shop where I am now finding out were numerous toxic chemicals that I was exposed to. On top of that, those same chemicals were in the water supply of three different bases that I was stationed at during my 4 year duty. One of the videos on here mentioned that we all have cancer cells in us and that cancer takes a long time to develop..”around our twenties there in our bodies and don’t develop til our fifties…” …I believe the video mentioned an “Incubation period.” i say this because my twenties is when I was in the military and i had the surgery now in my fifties!
    I am desperately trying to find a doctor or doctors who can say that cancer is turned on by, of course diet, but can it also be turned on by toxic materials? If so, why does it take years to develop? And what is causing it to continually grow over time?
    Please help me! I have spoken to a few doctors who do not want to say toxins can “start up” cancer cells…or at least say it is likely to start up the cells. If you could help me I appreciate it. If not, can you offer some suggestions where I can find doctors who believe so?
    Thank-you




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    1. Hello Diana! Unfortunately, Dr. Greger is unable to answer most of the questions posted here, however, we do have an amazing team of volunteer doctors, nurses, and dietitians who answer questions. I have forwarded your question to them.
      Please note that we don’t have enough volunteers to get all questions answered, so an answer is not guaranteed.




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    2. Diana, As a moderator for NutritionFacts.org, I am sorry to hear of your diagnosis and glad you are focusing on a healthy diet now continue. You had several questions. The first was why it takes so long for cancer to develop. In the video on Back to our Roots…Dr. Greger mentions “Recent studies indicate that in any given type of cancer, hundreds of different genes must be modified to change a normal cell into a cancer cell” and this takes time, even years. In other words cancer is a complex process.While it’s possible you were indeed exposed to “toxic materials” in your 20’s there may have been many more factors than that original exposure that resulted in your condition (explaining why others who worked with similar chemicals and drank same water do not share your diagnosis. It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific toxin because cancer development involves more than just potential exposure. That may be why you may be having difficulty finding doctors who are reluctant to pin cause on toxins, especially if these is possibility of future involvements should you focus on legal actions regarding exposure.Of course that is your choice, but since this is a nutrition site, I’m going to encourage you to focus attention on the present rather than the past,What can you do now, Diana, to make yourself as healthy as possible? Knowing that a whole food plant based diet is associated with better cancer treatment outcomes, it’s important to make that a priority. Best of health to you as you face the very real challenges dealing with your condition.




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