Nicknamed the “spice of life,” turmeric has a peppery, warm and slightly bitter flavor and an aromatic orange-ginger scent. It gives curry powder its distinctive taste and color, and is a staple in Chinese, Indian and Mexican cuisines. Many mustards, butters and cheese get their flavor and color from turmeric. Turmeric’s main active ingredient, curcumin, is a powerful antioxidant that shows great promise in cancer prevention and treatment.
Fast Fact: Turmeric has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.
Why You Need It: One of the most promising and important anti-cancer nutrients being studied, extensive research shows curcumin can stop cancer cells from dividing and has the ability to kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed. More than 2,000 published papers have demonstrated curcumin’s anti-cancer activities and its potential in helping to prevent and treat more than a dozen types of cancer. Numerous studies have confirmed curcumin’s broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity, with the most promising results being shown against Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium that causes most stomach ulcers and can lead to stomach cancer.
As an anti-inflammatory agent, a variety of experimental models show curcumin to be as effective as conventional treatments without the toxic side effects seen with these drugs (such as ulcer formation, intestinal bleeding and a decreased white blood cell count). In one clinical study, curcumin was found to be as safe as and as equally effective as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee. Other clinical studies have demonstrated its clinical effect in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Curcumin’s therapeutic role as a brain-protective agent, in major depressive disorder, and in gastrointestinal and respiratory disorders, as well as its potential to lower cholesterol and reduce the progression of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease are also being evaluated.
Best Food Sources: Turmeric rhizome (root), which looks like ginger root, is available at Asian markets and health food stores. Turmeric powder is widely available in grocery stores. Therapeutic grade powders, turmeric essential oil and other curcumin-containing products are available at health food stores.
Supplement Suggestions: Try to find organic sources of turmeric powder and turmeric root.
Need to Know: Curcumin, turmeric’s main active component, has the most evidence-based literature that supports anti-cancer capabilities compared to other nutrients.
Check out our food and supplement shopping tips.