Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Turmeric (Curcumin) and Skin Cancer

Turmeric is a plant in the ginger family. Like ginger, its roots can be ground to a powder and used as a spice. Indian cuisine is awash in turmeric. It doesn't have ginger's peppery piquantness, but it does have a vibrant orange color that will stain anything in its path. I look like I've been finger painting after I cook with it. The turmeric-spiked barbequed shrimp (recipe to follow) I made for our Independence Day picnic left everyone with branded fingertips (hehe). Don't you love eating with your hands?

Turmeric contains a chemical called curcumin. There's not a lot there, maybe 5%. If a teaspoon of turmeric weighed 5g, you might get 0.25g (250mg) of curcumin from it. Why would anyone care? Well, curcumin is fast gaining a reputation for its health benefits. And due out in the August 15 issue of Cancer is a study that found curcumin just about eradicated melanoma cancer cells. Killed them right there on the plate. (Check the title of the study below for the mechanism.) And the more curcumin they used, the stronger the effect, i.e. it was dose dependent.

But they only looked at cancer cells in vitro. Someone will have to contribute the money to test this effect in humans. And since curcumin is a natural product, what pharmaceutical company will step up to the research plate when they can't recover their research dollars through a patent? We'll have to hope the government picks up this tab.
Dear Mr. President,

You know those 4 skin lesions you had removed from your face recently? The ones that had a good likelihood of blooming into skin cancer if not excised? Well, just think of how reassuring and by golly how tasteful it would be to chow down on a big plate of curried rice or turmeric-spiced shrimp knowing it could very well stem any future cancer tide in your epithelial cells. Hm? So if the National Institutes of Health come calling, would you please consider funneling some funds their way? That sure would be dandy.

Thank you,
The Fanatic Cook

For a summary of the study:
In Cancer Fight, a Spice Brings Hope to the Table
Curry Spice Shuts Down Melanoma

For the study itself:
Curcumin-induced antiproliferative and proapoptotic effects in melanoma cells are associated with suppression of IB kinase and nuclear factor B activity and are independent of the B-Raf/mitogen-activated/extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase pathway and the Akt pathway

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