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No, turmeric doesn’t ‘kill cancer’ – but does have anti-inflammatory effects

Turmeric kills cancer, claims a blog post widely shared on social media.

Under the headline “How turmeric kills cancer and how to take it to be more effective”, the post lists many health conditions that “taking turmeric” can supposedly cure. 

Turmeric is a tall plant that grows in Asia and Central America. It is a member of the ginger family, and commonly used as a spice.  

The blog post is by Anya Vien, a “personal health coach”. She has over 70,000 followers on her Facebook page, which is described as offering “research and tips for natural, toxic free living”.

Vien doesn’t list any qualifications, medical or otherwise, on her site.

The post’s main claims are that:

1. Turmeric “treats pain and inflammation”.

2. Turmeric “treats rheumatoid arthritis and joint pain”.

3. Turmeric supplements “help fight cancer”.

4. Turmeric lowers the risk of diabetes. 

5. Turmeric can “help with” a list of further ailments, including indigestion, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. 

(Note: many of these ailments are similar and range from the general to the specific. For example, one of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis is inflammation, and the disease causes joint pain. “Pain and inflammation” and “rheumatoid arthritis and joint pain” are not distinct diseases.)

Mixed evidence for claims in blog post

Vien says there have been over 4,000 “scientific studies” on curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, and over 10,000 “published, peer reviewed articles” on curcumin. 

She gives no evidence for these numbers, and while she links to a few articles from reputable medical journals to back up her claims (here and here, for example), other links in her post are either dead or to alternative medicine websites similar to her own, not to actual research about turmeric or curcumin. 

The evidence Vien presents for whether turmeric “helps fight cancer” is particularly poor. Vien says researchers have focused on curcumin “which appears to block an enzyme that promotes head and neck cancers”, but gives no link or evidence for this. 

There are a number of academic articles presenting research on this subject, including this review in the medical journal Molecular Cancer and this article from the journal BioMed Research International. 

Neither article goes so far as to claim that “turmeric kills cancer cells”, but the review concludes that curcumin may be “best suited as an adjuvant therapy for head and neck cancers that are resistant to currently available therapies”. 

Vien includes a link to support her claim that “curcumin’s efficacy in fighting cancer is similar to that of oxaliplatin, an agent in chemotherapy”, but this is to a website, Real Farmacy, and not to any research. 

The final link in the claim that “curcumin may be effective in fighting cancers such as prostate, breast, skin and colon cancer” does not work. 

Turmeric doesn’t ‘kill’ cancer cells

Prof Kenneth Ofokansi in the department of pharmaceutics, University of Nigeria, said turmeric doesn’t kill cancer cells.

“The world ‘kill’ is a strong word. I wouldn’t say turmeric kills cancer cells. When included in a drug, I would say it helps fight cancer. Turmeric does help to reduce inflammation but I wouldn’t say it soothes pain or lowers one’s risk of having diabetes. Neither does it treat arthritis.”

Ofokansi is a member of the West African Society of Pharmacology.

Claim ‘not scientifically proven yet’

Dr Okunola Oladimeji, a clinical nutritionist at the Federal Medical Centre, a hospital in Abeokuta, Nigeria, said the claim about turmeric killing cancer cells has not been scientifically proven.

“I also do not share the view that turmeric lowers one’s risk of having diabetes or that it treats arthritis. If all these claims were true, a good number of researchers would have obtained it thereby making it scarce. Aside from that, these claims have not been scientifically proven,” Oladimeji said.

“Turmeric is promoted as an alternative cancer treatment. There is some evidence that curcumin, a substance in turmeric, can kill cancer cells in certain cancers. But we need more research,” says Cancer Research UK, a charity that funds cancer research and awareness in the United Kingdom. – Motunrayo Joel


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