CURRY and onions might do much more than spice up a meal. They also could help prevent colon cancer.
A new study, published in the August issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, found that a pill containing large doses of curcumin (a chemical found in curry and turmeric) and quercetin, an antioxidant found in onions, helped prevent precancerous polyps in several people at high risk for colon cancer.
Five people with an inherited disease called familial adenomatous polyposis, which often leads to colon cancer, took the pill for six months. The average number of polyps the patients developed dropped by more than 60%, and the average size of the polyps was reduced by 50%, said Dr. Francis M. Giardiello, senior author of the study and a gastroenterologist at the cancer center at Johns Hopkins University.
Earlier studies had suggested that people who eat large amounts of curry have lower rates of colon cancer. But to have real effect, the chemicals probably need to be taken in pill form, Giardiello says. “You can put a lot of turmeric on your food, and it’s still only 3% to 6% of curcumin,” he says. “The supplement is multiple times what you eat in a regular diet.”
People with familial adenomatous polyposis typically take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help reduce their cancer risk. But these drugs are associated with side effects; curcumin did not cause serious side effects. A larger, randomized study on curcumin is planned, Giardiello says. The research was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.