Cancer, also known as malignant tumor or malignant neoplasm, is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. It is one of the leading causes of deaths in India, with nearly three million patients suffering from the disease. However, this figure is considerably less than other countries. Epidemiological studies have linked the frequent use of turmeric to lower rates of breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer.
Turmeric is a tropical perennial herb cultivated in India from ancient times. Roots of the plant are boiled, dried and powdered to obtain turmeric powder, which is widely used as a spice. Turmeric powder is also referred to as the king of spices since it has been used by people to treat different types of ailments from generations. It contains a variety of constituents including curcumin, which is a plant based nutrient with a potential to cure several diseases including cancers.
How does Turmeric help fight cancer?
Normal cells in our body follow a well ordered path of growth and division. After serving our body for a specific period of time, these cells undergo a biological process called apoptosis in which self-destruction of cells takes place. With this process, equilibrium is maintained as old cells die and new cells take their place. When these cells encounter an attack by cancer causing agents called carcinogens, disruption of life cycle takes place due to alteration of DNA sequence. DNA sequence in a cell is like a software installed in an electronic gadget, which when attacked by a virus, results in abnormal performance. Similarly, carcinogen-attacked cells skip the process of apoptosis, eventually causing uncontrollable cell growth. This is the first step in the development of cancer, which can also be referred to as ‘initiation’.
Promotion is the next step in the developmental process that is induced by promoters which causes division of cells. Carcinogen-attacked cells are susceptible to promotion resulting in daughter cells with same abnormal DNA sequence. As this process continues, new cells are uncontrollably formed without replacement of old cells.
Curcumin has been considered by oncologists as a promising chemical constituent in preventing or reversing the development of cancer.It induces a process that triggers the self-destruction of cancerous and damaged body cells by inhibiting anti-apoptopic factors and encouraging factors that help in the process of apoptosis.
Another mechanism is related to development of cancer is the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are the byproducts of oxygen metabolism generated in our body during physical activity or any other processes such as breathing. These oxygen species cause damage to DNA resulting in alteration of its sequence that may eventually lead to development of cancer. Curcumin hinders this process by scavenging reactive oxygen species (ROS).
How much is too much?
Turmeric is believed to be a secure herb but prolonged use of it in higher than suggested dose may cause side effects. Healthcare providers suggests avoiding twice or thrice of the recommended 1.5 gm daily dose of turmeric powder.
- High doses of turmeric may cause stomach or liver distress, dehydration, nausea, diarrhea or constipation may be caused by use of high doses of Turmeric extract.
- People suffered with gallstones or bile obstructions need to avoid the consumption of turmeric.
- Turmeric has anti-platelet action so people taking blood thinning drugs (including Aspirin), should consult their doctor before taking it.
- Administration of numerous turmeric capsules may elevate the body temperature.
- It is possible that high intake of turmeric may result in high oxalic acid in the urine that leads to kidney stones.
- It should be avoided in pregnancy as it may cause pre-mature uterine contractions, bleeding or spasms due to its uterine stimulant effect.
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