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Food as Medicine: Pharmacist's Corner

Tumeric/Curcumin Against Cancer

Image of Shawna Kraft, Pharm.D
Shawna Kraft, Pharm.D.

Many foods and spices are known to have health benefits, which is why you often hear the expression food as medicine. Patients often ask me about using turmeric, also called curcumin, for its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits. Turmeric is a spice commonly used in Indian food. It's also known as curcumin since this is the yellow-colored active component of turmeric. It is used in America to make our mustard yellow.

Besides a tasty spice that adds zing to foods, turmeric is often used for its benefits against Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diarrhea, acid reflux and many more conditions, including Alzheimer's disease and cancer. Turmeric can be used orally or topically in doses ranging from 375 mg to 4,000 mg once daily.

There are many ways in which turmeric is thought to work, but in cancer some studies suggest that it may kill cancer cells and stop tumors from forming the blood vessels they need to grow. The spice has some potential side effects in cancer patients:

  • increased bleeding from affecting platelets
  • low blood glucose in patients taking diabetes medications
  • skin reactions such as rashes
  • constipation

These side effects and interactions aside, turmeric is generally well tolerated. However, at this point in time there is not enough evidence that turmeric works or should be used to fight cancer. Turmeric can also interact with medications such as sulfasalazine and fluoxetine. If you are considering using turmeric/curcumin as a supplement, please discuss it with your cancer team first to make sure you are not at risk for side effects or drug interactions.

Some ways to add turmeric into your healthy diet:

  • Use the spice to make curry dishes or other recipes
  • Take turmeric extract in tablets or capsules, available at health food stores
  • Drink turmeric tea, using 1 teaspoon ground turmeric in 4 cups of water. Boil and strain into a cup and flavor with honey or lemon.

Have a question for the pharmacist? Email us at ThriveMagazine@med.umich.edu.

Continue learning about foods that may help fight cancer:

Read the Fall 2016 issue of THRIVE

 

Thrive Issue: 
Fall, 2016