Turmeric, a bright yellow spice powder made from the root of a plant in the ginger family, is grown in many Asian countries and other tropical areas.
It’s a major ingredient in curry powders common in many Indian and Asian dishes, and it is used as a colouring for foods, fabrics and cosmetics.
The root can be dried and made into capsules, tablets, extracts, powders or teas.
Or it can be made into a paste to apply to the skin.
Turmeric’s main active component – curcumin – is what gives the spice its yellow colour.
Curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties, making it a potential treatment for a number of health conditions, including reduced pain and increased ease of movement in people with osteoarthritis.
One study found that taking turmeric extract three times daily was comparable to taking a 1,200mg dose of ibuprofen daily for arthritis pain.
However, more research is necessary to confirm these effects.
In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, research suggests that curcumin has many other health benefits like antioxidant, metabolic-regulating, antimicrobial, immune-modulating, mood-enhancing, neuroprotective and anti-cancer effects.
Preclinical studies demonstrate curcumin stops the growth of breast cancer cells in the laboratory, but it’s not known if this happens in humans as the body quickly breaks down curcumin, making it difficult to study.
High-quality human studies are needed to confirm these findings.
When ingested as part of a dish, the curcumin in turmeric appears to be generally safe among cancer patients.
But dietary food sources are different than turmeric supplements or pills. There is little research on whether turmeric supplements are safe when used in combination with cancer treatments, including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
The use of supplements, like turmeric, among cancer patients undergoing treatment can be a concern.
Supplements are not standardised like prescription medications, meaning the dose is not regulated and purity cannot be guaranteed.
What you get may differ from bottle to bottle and among brands, and there can be variables depending on what specific part of the plant is used.
Many supplements that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, like turmeric, also have blood-thinning properties, which can increase the risk of bleeding and cause complications around the time of surgery.
Using supplements while on chemotherapy is worrisome because of potential drug-herb interactions.
Laboratory studies have shown that two common chemotherapy drugs used to treat breast cancer – doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide – may have reduced effectiveness when used alongside turmeric, but the clinical significance is not yet known.
Another commonly-used chemotherapy drug for breast cancer, paclitaxel, may result in liver toxicity when combined with turmeric.
The bottomline is that it’s not known how turmeric affects chemotherapy and further research is needed.
To reduce the risk of harm, clinician-guided supplement use is recommended.
It is best to talk with your cancer care team about the supplements you take to ensure they are safe, especially in combination with your cancer treatment.
Oftentimes, the marketing of supplements appears promising.
However, high-quality research supporting these claims may be lacking and could pose harm instead.
As a rule of thumb, there is no magic bullet.
The best option – one proven in studies time and time again – is to get all the antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals your body needs by eating a whole food, plant-based diet rich in colourful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. – By Dr Dawn Mussallem/Mayo Clinic News Network/Tribune News Service
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