The Spice of Life

Scientists zero in on the healing properties of curry

By Michael Dabney Created: October 29, 2010 Last Updated: October 30, 2010
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TASTY AND HEALTHY: Research suggests that curry can prevent diseases like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease. (

TASTY AND HEALTHY: Research suggests that curry can prevent diseases like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease. (

Curry, a spice long revered in India and other parts of Asia as “holy powder” because of its medicinal properties, is fast gaining the attention of Western researchers for its anti-cancer possibilities and its promising ability to deter conditions such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

It has been only in the last 10 years that scientists have begun to earnestly study and zero in on the healing and antioxidant properties of curcumin, a key chemical compound found in this pungent yellow spice.

Such research is significant not only in exploring new and more effective natural treatment for disease, but also in spurring study into the medicinal value of traditional native foods and plants from cultures around the world, says Dr. Mahtab Jafari, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of California at Irvine. Dr. Jafari has long studied the health and healing powers of plants and natural food products, including curcumin.

Curcumin is derived from the root of the turmeric plant. The plant is a member of the ginger family and grows in the Himalayas. For centuries in India, China, and other Asian countries, curry has not only served as a staple culinary spice but has also been used to heal and treat wounds and other afflictions.

Studies have shown that the chemical curcumin is capable of blocking a biological pathway that is required for certain forms of cancer to spread. More specifically, the chemical inhibits a protein called “nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB),” which can cause abnormal inflammations that have the potential to lead to various disorders such as arthritis and cancer.

“Preliminary results from lab research suggest that curcumin has important antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties,” says Dr. Jafari. “Studies are also currently underway by the National Institutes of Health to study the role of the spice in preventing such conditions as liver cancer, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and forms of osteoporosis.”

And although much research still needs to be done in studying the health and healing qualities of this and other native foods and plants found globally—such as ginkgo, fish oil, ginseng, garlic, antioxidant fruits, and the plant Rhodiola rosea—Dr. Jafari welcomes the investigative attention being paid these days to curry and its wide range of healing possibilities.

Growing Evidence of Research

A perusal of recent scientific literature will give you an idea of why there is buzz in the research community about curry:

In an in vitro study reported on in BioMed Central’s open access Journal of Ovarian Research, scientists from Sanford Research (in Sioux Falls, S.D.) and the University of South Dakota found that pre-treating ovarian cancer cells to tiny nanoparticles of curcumin makes such cells more susceptible to chemotherapy and radiotherapy.


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