A popular, spicy dish could hold the key to preventing colorectal cancer (a.k.a. colon cancer) in people who are prone to adenomas (benign tumors that are of a glandular structure).
Colon cancer is extremely common in the U.S. — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 70,651 men and 68,883 women were diagnosed with the disease in 2002. In fact, in that same year, it ranked ninth on the list of top 10 causes of death for men, and tenth for women.
Some people are more at risk for developing colon cancer than others are because of a genetic condition that they inherit from their parents: “familial adenomatous polyposis” (FAP). If you have FAP, this means that large numbers of growths called “polyps” or adenomas form in your digestive tract, usually in the large intestine. Even though these adenomas may start out benign, they will turn into cancer if not treated properly.
In a very small, preliminary study, five FAP patients were given pills containing 480 mg of curcumin and 20 mg of quercetin three times daily for a term of six months. Curcumin is found in the Indian spice turmeric, which is one of the main components in curry. Quercetin is a flavonoid that can be found in many food sources, including apples, onions, green tea, and red wine.
Of the people enrolled in the study, three followed the protocol for the entire six months, one dropped out entirely, while another subject dropped out and then rejoined. At the end, the researchers found that the number of polyps in the patients taking the curcumin/quercetin pills decreased by an average of 60.4%. In addition, there was a substantial change in polyp size: the polyps were 50.9% smaller. The patients experienced very few side effects when taking the pills.
It should be noted that one patient who dropped out in the third month of the study had already experienced a decrease in the number of polyps after ceasing taking the medication. When the patient re-enrolled in the study, the individual again experienced regression of the pre- cancerous growths. The study scientists feel that this is very significant when it comes to demonstrating the power of the new medication.
The researchers think that, because the quercetin content of the pill was such a low dose (pretty much the same as what many of us get from food every day), curcumin is the substance responsible for shrinking and preventing the adenomas. So, this means that the curry spice ingredient could have the power to help prevent colorectal cancer. However, this effect must be further studied on a larger scale and in placebo-controlled, randomized trials.
It’s also important for you to know that you’re probably not going to get the same health benefit just from eating foods containing the turmeric spice, as the pill used in the study contained much greater amounts of curcumin than you would normally eat.