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.