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Turmeric: The Cancer Killer

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Photo: Turmeric is the orange-colored root of Curcuma longa

Natural, organic ingredients such as fruits, vegetables and plants have been used to cure illnesses and injuries on humans for thousands of years by cultures around the world. From the ancient Vedic civilization to the Mayans and to the Native Americans, civilizations have known how to use plants, from roots to fruits, to cure symptoms of body imbalances and to simply stay healthy.

This is the first natural ingredient from an on-going research that I will share with you. People have talked about them, books have been written about and video presentations filmed about them. I’ll try to summarize the most important facts about these natural ingredients and all their beneficial gains from consuming them. Out first ingredient to discuss is Tumeric.

Origins and Historical use
Folk Medicine
Culinary uses
Health benefits
Negative effects / allergies

Origins and Historical use

A member of the ginger family, turmeric is the orange-colored root of Curcuma longa, a perennial plant grown primarily in India, China and Indonesia, as well as in other portions of Asia. After drying, the root is ground into a bright yellow powder.

Modern history has always asserted and acknowledged it as at least a 2500-year-old herb, probably originating from India. As far back as 600 B.C., ground turmeric was used as a food and fabric coloring agent. In many areas of Asia, native peoples used turmeric to dye parts of the body for ceremonial rites. During the Middle Ages, ground turmeric was known to Europeans as “Indian saffron” due to its similar color and aroma, and it became a less-expensive substitute for saffron in cooking. It reached China and other portions of Asia by 700 AD, East Africa by 800 AD and West Africa by 1200. It is also known that the Arab traders had carried with them turmeric to Europe in the 13th century. Today, turmeric is widely cultivated throughout the tropics.

According to Vedic (Indian) history, turmeric has been used in India for more than 5000 years now. Initially, it was cultivated as a dye as its vivid yellow color works brilliantly as a coloring agent, both as food colorant and dyes for clothes; and in both cases a cheaper alternative to saffron. With time, people came to know about its highly developed uses and started using it for cosmetic purposes and eventually as a medicine. Turmeric plays an important part in all Hindu rituals – often representing life, purity, and prosperity.

Folk Medicine

Turmeric has a long history amongst South Asians as a remedy that cures or improves many common ailments, and has been cited in Sanskrit medical treatises and widely used in Ayurvedic and Unani systems. Susruta’s Ayurvedic Compendium, dating to 250 BC, recommends an ointment containing turmeric to relieve the effects of poisoned food.

Earliest reference on turmeric can be seen in Atharva Veda (4000 BC), in which turmeric is prescribed to charm away jaundice, and in the treatment of leprosy. Turmeric has been traditionally used to improve digestion, to improve intestinal flora, to relieve gas, to eliminate worms, to cleanse and strengthen the liver and gallbladder, to normalize menstruation, for relief of arthritis and swelling, as a blood purifier, to warm and promote proper metabolism correcting both excesses and deficiencies, for local application on sprains, burns, cuts, bruises, insect bites and itches, for soothing action in cough and asthma, as antibacterial and anti-fungus, and in any condition of weakness or debility.

Turmeric paste is traditionally used by Indian women to keep them free of superfluous hair and as an antimicrobial. Turmeric paste, as part of both home remedies and Ayurveda, is also said to improve the skin, diminish freckles or spots and brighten the skin, and is touted as an anti-aging agent. Turmeric figures prominently in the bridal beautification ceremonies of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Staining oneself with turmeric is believed to improve skin tone and tan.

Culinary uses

Turmeric is eaten as food both raw and cooked throughout Asia. While turmeric root looks much like ginger root, it is less fibrous and is more chewable, crunchy, and succulent. The fresh root (not the powder) has a somewhat sweet and nutty flavor mixed with its bitter flavor. As a result, it is not unpleasant to eat and not difficult to chew.  It is sometimes chewed plain or chopped up and put in salads raw.  Traditional use includes mashing/grinding it in a mortar to make a paste to mix with other spices for flavoring in curries.  In modern times, the most common use is of the dried root powder as the base of most curries in India and other South Asian countries.

Used as a spice, ground turmeric imparts a strong, bitter flavor. Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine relies heavily on ground turmeric to color and flavor dishes. A key ingredient in curry powder, ground turmeric provides a pungent kick to meat, chicken, rice and vegetable dishes. Used as a substitute for saffron, it is used to flavor and color butter, cheese, margarine, pickles, mustard, liquor, fruit drinks, cakes, table jellies, fruit dishes, and other foodstuffs.

Turmeric oil is also used to impart the flavor in the food and perfume industries. Turmeric is widely used as a spice in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking. Many Persian dishes use turmeric as a starter ingredient for almost all Iranian fry ups. In Nepal, turmeric is widely grown and is extensively used in almost every vegetable and meat dish in the country for its color, as well as for its medicinal value. In South Africa, turmeric is traditionally used to give boiled white rice a golden color. Turmeric, when used as a food additive, is used to protect food products from sunlight.

Health benefits

The medicinal properties of turmeric have been slowly revealing themselves over the centuries. Long known for its anti-inflammatory properties, recent research has revealed that turmeric is a natural wonder, proving beneficial in the treatment of many different health conditions from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. The active ingredient within Turmeric is curcumin, which is commonly used as an antioxidant and is found within the Turmeric roots. The common way to break down the roots is simply by drying it out and using as a powder.

Turmeric is known to have the following properties; anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-mutagenic, anti-cancerous, cholagogue, depurative, diuretic, fumitory, hemostatic, tonic, vulnerary, hepatoprotective, lactagogue, stomachic. Turmeric has been used to heal many health disorders like liver problems, digestive disorders, treatment for skin diseases and wounds. Turmeric is considered as a digestive bitter and a carminative. It can be added into foods including rice and bean dishes to improve digestion, reduce gas and bloating. It is a cholagogue, stimulating bile production in the liver and encouraging excretion of bile via the gall bladder. This improves the body’s ability to digest fats. Turmeric is beneficial for its influence on the liver. It is said to shrink engorged hepatic ducts, so it can be useful to treat liver conditions such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, and jaundice. Recent scientific research confirms that turmeric can restrain the growth of various types of cancer. Turmeric is used for the treatment of skin cancer or precancerous skin conditions.

Turmeric may help in preventing the blockage of arteries that can gradually cause a heart attack or stroke in one of two ways. Turmeric makes cholesterol levels low and inhibited the oxidation of LDL (bad cholesterol). Oxidized LDL deposits in the walls of blood vessels and contributes to the formation of atherosclerotic plaque. Turmeric may also prevent platelet build up along the walls of an injured blood vessel. Turmeric may help relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis because of its ability to reduce pain and disability. Turmeric is an antispasmodic to smooth muscles so it reduces digestive and menstrual cramping. It should reduce the severity of pain, if not erase them completely.

Curcumin may prove to be as effective as corticosteroids in treating the eye disorder, uveitis. Turmeric decreases congestion and inflammation from stagnant mucous membranes. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory to the mucous membranes, which coat the throat, lungs, stomach and intestines. Regular use of turmeric can benefit from Colitis, Crohn’s disease, diarrhea, and post salmonella conditions. The itching and inflammation that accompanies hemorrhoids and anal fissures can reduce by use of turmeric. Turmeric can also benefit skin conditions including eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Turmeric is currently used in the formulation of some sunscreens.


Turmeric has received a lot of research attention, and its active ingredient, curcumin, has been isolated. Curcumin has been shown to have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory property. The various effects of curcumin are still under examination through various trials, but turmeric has already become an important remedy in alternative medicine.

The following researches/studies have been undertaken to study the effects of turmeric and curcumin:

  • The U.S. National Institute of Health has four clinical trials underway to study curcumin treatment for pancreatic cancer, multiple myeloma, Alzheimer’s and colorectal cancer.
  • Investigations into the low occurrence of colorectal cancer amongst groups of people who eat turmeric in the curries as compared to people whose intake of turmeric is low.

There are several ongoing clinical trials exploring curcumin’s benefits in inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, knee osteoarthritis, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome; some of which have already completed Phase II and III.

Anti-inflammatory Mechanisms:3 Research shows curcumin is a highly pleiotropic molecule capable of interacting with numerous molecular targets involved in inflammation.

Ulcerative Colitis:4 Curcumin has been shown to reduce mucosal injury in mice with experimentally induced colitis. A dose of 50 mg/kg curcumin for 10 days prior to induction of colitis with 1,4,6-trinitrobenzene sulphonic acid resulted in a significant amelioration of diarrhea, improved colonic architecture, and significantly reduced neutrophil infiltration and lipid peroxidation in colonic tissue.

Rheumatoid Arthritis:2,6 Intraperitoneal injection containing 4mg total curcuminoids/kg/day for four days prior to arthritis induction significantly inhibited joint inflammation in both the acute (75%) and chronic (68%) phases. To test efficacy of an oral preparation, a 30-fold higher dose (to allow for possible low gastrointestinal absorption) of the curcuminoid preparation, given 4 days prior to arthritis induction, significantly reduced joint inflammation by 48 percent on the third day of administration.

Pancreatitis:8 Clinical research on curcumin’s therapeutic benefit for pancreatitis is limited and has primarily focused on its antioxidant properties. However, research indicates the inflammatory response plays a critical role in the development of pancreatitis and subsequent tissue damage. For this reason, it seems likely an anti-inflammatory agent like curcumin, effective against a variety of inflammatory molecular targets and shown to decrease inflammatory markers in an animal model of pancreatitis, might prove to be effective in humans.

Gastrointestinal Conditions: Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties and therapeutic benefit have been demonstrated for a variety of gastrointestinal conditions, including dyspepsia, Helicobacter pylori infection, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.

Dyspepsia and Gastric Ulcer:7 In a phase II clinical trial involving 45 subjects (24 males, 21 females, ages 16-60 years), 25 with endoscopically diagnosed peptic ulcers were given 600 mg curcumin five times daily 30-60 minutes before meals, at 4:00 pm, and at bedtime for 12 weeks. Ulcers were absent in 12 patients (48%) after four weeks, in 18 patients after eight weeks, and in 19 patients (76%) after 12 weeks. The remaining 20 patients, also given curcumin, had no detectable ulcerations at the start of the study, but were symptomatic – erosions, gastritis, and dyspepsia. Within 1-2 weeks abdominal pain and other symptoms had decreased significantly.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: In patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) the most common symptoms are abdominal pain, bloating, altered bowel habits, and increased stool frequency. It is thought that low-grade inflammation of the intestinal mucosa is responsible for some symptomology. In an eight-week pilot study of IBS patients, either 72 mg or 144 mg of a standardized turmeric extract was administered to a group of 102 or 105 subjects, respectively. After four weeks, those in the 72-mg group experienced a 53-percent reduction in IBS prevalence, while the 144-mg group experienced a 60-percent decrease. In post-study analysis, abdominal pain and discomfort scores were reduced by 22 percent in the 72-mg group and 25 percent in the 144-mg group.

Immune disorders: Curcumin has been shown in the last two decades to be a potent immuno-modulatory agent that can modulate the activation of T cells, B cells, macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, and dendritic cells. Curcumin can also downregulate the expression of various proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines. Interestingly, however, curcumin at low doses can also enhance antibody responses. This suggests that curcumin’s reported beneficial effects in arthritis, allergy, asthma, atherosclerosis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer might be due in part to its ability to modulate the immune system. These findings warrant further consideration of curcumin as a therapy for immune disorders.

Curcumin’s Anti-inflammatory Properties and Carcinogenesis:5 It is well understood that pro-inflammatory states are linked to tumor promotion. Consequently, phytochemicals like curcumin that exert a strong anti-inflammatory effect are anticipated to have some degree of chemo-preventive activity. Preclinical cancer research using curcumin has shown it inhibits carcinogenesis in a number of cancer types, including colorectal, pancreatic, gastric, prostate, hepatic, breast, and oral cancers, and leukemia, and at various stages of carcinogenesis.

Negative effects / allergies

When used as a spice in foods, turmeric is considered safe. More research is needed to establish the safety of turmeric when used in herbal remedies.

Risk of bleeding: The chemical composition of turmeric can lead to blood thinning. Hence, its intake should be avoided by a person who is undergoing medications for thinning blood to lower clotting.

Gastrointestinal problems: Excess turmeric could lead to diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration, and could also use inflammation and ulcers which can be signs of gastrointestinal bleeding.

Heart diseases: Too much turmeric can lead to heart diseases and can damage your health as it helps activate p53 gene. This gene is responsible for deactivating heart cells.

Gallbladder problems: Turmeric can make gallbladder problems worse. Don’t use turmeric if you have gallstones or a bile duct obstruction

Special precautions and warnings: If currently being treated for the following medications; anticoagulants, drugs that reduce stomach acid, diabetic drugs; turmeric should not be consumed in medicinal form without proper consultation with a physician. It is advised to avoid taking turmeric orally as medicine during pregnancy without consultation, as it could lead to stomach distress and ulcers or even complications during childbirth.



  1. Anti-inflammatory Properties of Curcumin, a Major Constituent of Curcuma longa: A Review of Preclinical and Clinical Research – Julie S. Jurenka, MT (ASCP)
  2. Abe Y, Hashimoto S, Horie T. Curcumin inhibition of inflammatory cytokine production by human peripheral blood monocytes and alveolar macrophages. Pharmacol Res 1999; 39:41-47
  3. Surh YJ, Chun KS, Cha HH, et al. Molecular mechanisms underlying chemopreventive activities of anti-inflammatory phytochemicals: down-regulation of COX-2 and iNOS through suppression of NF-kappa B activation. Mutat Res 2001; 480-481:243-268
  4. Ukil A, Maity S, Karmakar S, et al. Curcumin, the major component of food flavour turmeric, reduces mucosal injury in trinitrobenzene sulphonic acidinduced colitis. Br J Pharmacol 2003; 139:209-218
  5. Aggarwal BB, Kumar A, Bharti AC. Anticancer potential of curcumin: preclinical and clinical studies. Anticancer Res 2003; 23:363-398
  6. Srimal RC, Dhawan BN. Pharmacology of diferuloyl methane (curcumin), a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent J Pharm Pharmacol 1973; 25:447- 452
  7. Hanai H, Iida T, Takeuchi K, et al. Curcumin maintenance therapy for ulcerative colitis: randomized, multicenter, double-blind, placebocontrolled trial. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2006; 4:1502-1506
  8. Durgaprasad S, Pai CG, Vasanthkumar, et al. A pilot study of the antioxidant effect of curcumin in tropical pancreatitis Indian J Med Res 2005; 122; 315-318