Next time you’re out for Indian or Thai food, order the curry. A compound in turmeric, a spice commonly used in these dishes, is being tested in the U.K. for its ability to fight bowel cancer.
Curcumin, which gives turmeric its distinctive yellow color, is already linked to a range of health benefits, such as for stroke and dementia patients. It also kills cancer cells grown in the laboratory, a finding that has stimulated the current research.
Scientists are testing curcumin—in conjunction with chemotherapy drugs—as a treatment for colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer. Patients will take curcumin pills for seven days before receiving chemotherapy treatment.
In 2007, colorectal cancer caused 53,219 adult deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chemotherapy is a commonly used treatment, although half of the patients don’t respond to it.
According to researchers, curcumin may enhance the effectiveness of the standard treatment by making cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy. This would allow doctors to use smaller doses of the chemotherapy drugs, and reduce the often-severe side effects.
It’s unlikely that curry will someday be prescribed as a treatment for bowel cancer, but traditional spices like turmeric may hold clues for the development of other treatments and drugs.