Spices for Cancer Prevention

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curry20091028How a wide variety of familiar spices may help with cancer prevention and someday help with cancer treatment was the focus of Bharat B. Aggarwal’s talk at AICR research conference. Dr. Aggarwal, PhD, a researcher at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, spoke about how studies have shown many spices decrease the activity of a compound called NF-kappa B (NF-kB).

All the different types of cancer cells have NF-kB. It seems to lead to chronic inflammation, eventually leading to cancer development, said Dr. Aggarwal. Turmeric, fennel, red chili, cloves, and ginger are just a few of the spices Dr. Aggarwal and his colleagues have found reduce the development of cancer in animal studies. The natural compounds in spices turn down the function of the many genes related to chronic inflammation, as opposed to targeting a single gene.

Some promising research Dr. Aggarwal and others are studying come from curcumin, which you can read about here. There are currently tens of ongoing clinical trials – studies conducted on cancer patients – that will help researchers understand the effects of different spices.

Dr. Aggarwal also has a new book on the subject: Molecular Targets and Therapeutic Uses of Spices: Modern Uses for Ancient Medicine.

Identifying cancer-fighting compounds

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The name John M Pezzuto, PhD, may not sound familiar, but almost everyone has read about his research. Many are familiar with his most notable discovery: the identification of resveratrol, a compound produced naturally in red grapes and linked with health benefits. Resveratrol is now the subject of nearly 2,000 papers.

At AICR’s research conference, Dr. Pezzuto, a researcher at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, explained the lengthy and challenging process of identifying the compounds in fruits and vegetables.

A carrot alone has 892 compounds.

After identifying what compounds may have health benefits, animal studies then reveal how it may influence cancer development. It’s not that easy to find an active compound, he noted, and even if it doesn’t show cancer-fighting effects in animal studies, they try to learn something from the negatives.

There is a long list of compounds Dr. Pezzuto and his colleagues have identified, many with tough-pronouncing names. There’s zapotin, extracted from an edible fruit; isoliquiritigenin, isolated from licorice; and brassinin, from the cabbage family.

What we really should be thinking about are all the components of the diet, then the metabolites, the pathways, and how it all works together to effect human health.

Colon Cancer is Preventable

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People need to know that colon cancer is largely preventable, was the key message from the first presenter — David S. Alberts, MD — at AICR’s research conference. With everything we know about colon cancer prevention, he said, it’s unimaginable that colon cancer is still the second leading cause of cancer deaths.

We know all the clinical behaviors that are required for a person to prevent this disease.

The development of colon cancer is a long continuum; it doesn’t happen overnight, in months or a few years. We know all the clinical behaviors that are required for a person to prevent this disease: physical activity, a healthy diet. This sequence has a 20-30 year period during which time we can intervene and do something about its development.

He noted that one point today’s USA Today story missed was the importance of physical activity. You can overcome the obesity problem with physical activity, he said. We also know that obese people who are physically active reduce their risk of colorectal cancer just like anybody else.

This is a message that should be on everyone’s breakfast and dinner table. And every time you do sit-ups, it’s taking a step to prevent colon cancer.