Cancer-fighting turmeric power

The spice that gives many curries a yellow colour could help halt the spread of breast cancer, research suggests.

Scientists found curcumin, the main ingredient of turmeric, appeared to stop tumours spreading to other parts of the body. It proved particularly effective when combined with an existing chemotherapy drug.

Researchers described their findings as ‘exciting’ and said they hoped patients would be able to benefit from the discovery within a few years.

Scientists took 60 mice with breast cancer and, after removing the tumours, gave some curcumin and others a normal, drug-free diet.

The rest were given a common chemotherapy drug called Taxol, or a combination of curcumin and Taxol.

The team found that 96 per cent of those on a normal diet with no medication developed tumours in the lungs that were visible without a microscope.

By contrast, none of those given curcumin and Taxol developed clearly visible tumours. Even when examined under a microscope, only 28 per cent of the mice given a combination of curcumin and Taxol showed signs the cancer had spread.

Scientists think the spice helps shut down a protein that plays a key role in the spread of cancers.

The research, published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, was carried out by the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Centre.

It is not the first time scientists have found that curries can be good for health.

Curcumin, a member of the ginger family, is already widely used in Indian and Chinese medicine for a range of ailments from rheumatism to abdominal pain. Studies have suggested that turmeric can help to slow prostate cancer.

And last year, researchers said curcumin could help protect the brain against the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. This could explain why rates of Alzheimer’s are far lower in India than in the West.