Turmeric, Ginger and Cancer

Ginger, a pungent aromatic rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale, is native to China, where it has been used as a medicinal plant for thousands of years. There is evidence about the chemopreventive effect of ginger; however, more human trials are needed to strengthen this evidence. Turmeric, a bright, yellow spice derived from the rhizomes of the plant Curcuma longa, is grown in tropical Asia and Africa. It contains various polyphenolic compounds, with curcumin the most potent. Curcumin gives turmeric most of its medicinal benefits, including cancer prevention. Do not take ginger, turmeric and any other herbal supplements without first consulting your doctor.

Fresh turmeric root in a crate at the market. (Image: thawornnurak/iStock/Getty Images)

Ginger Anticancer Property

Pungent constituents of ginger have a myriad of biological effects, including anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer, based on a study published in the May 2007 issue of the journal "Food and Chemical Toxicology." Y. Shukla and M. Singh, ginger researchers at the Industrial Toxicology Research Centre in India, have identified a dozen of compounds with anticancer activities in ginger. These include vallinoids, gingerols, paradols, shogaols and zingerone.

Ginger and Ovarian Cancer

Scientists at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center examined the chemosensitizing effect of ginger in ovarian cancer cells. Ginger selectively kills the ovarian cancer cells that have acquired resistance to standard therapy, according to Dr. J. Rebecca Liu, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan Medical School. It destroys cancer cells through two distinct cell death pathways called apoptosis and autophagy.

Turmeric and Cell Cycle Arrest

Turmeric may have a number of tumor-suppressor functions in human carcinogenesis, including cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis, according to Jane Higdon, a cancer researcher at Oregon State University. It inhibits cell cycle in cells exceeding a critical threshold of DNA damage, thus eliminating the risk of becoming cancerous. Turmeric also protects your body, inducing apoptosis — a normal physiological process in which your body removes genetically damaged cells and unwanted cells.

Turmeric and Prostate Cancer

Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco have examined the possible mechanism through which turmeric confers protection against prostate cancer. These findings suggest that turmeric regulates cytoprotective genes in normal prostate cancer cells that help prevent cellular oxidative stress and inflammation, factors that can affect the risk of developing prostate cancer. Turmeric may also exert preferential cytotoxic effects against malignant prostate cells, according to Jeffery Herman, an investigator in this study.

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