For Immediate Release: October 28, 2009
Contact: Glen Weldon 202-328-7744 x312

Can Curry Kill Cancer Cells?

New headlines tout the anti-cancer potential of curcumin. Is there a savior in your spice rack?

You may have seen some recent headlines touting the ability of curcumin to inhibit stomach cancer in the lab. (Curcumin is the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, which lends curry its distinctive yellow color.)

These new findings with stomach cancer cells are only the latest to suggest that this hotly studied spice may possess anti-cancer potential. AICR has funded several grants involving curcumin; in these and other studies, curcumin seems to reduce the formation and growth of breast and colon cancer cells.


Read this profile of AICR grantee Suzy V. Torti, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Biochemistry at Wake Forest University. She’s using AICR funding to uncover a new biological mechanism that might explain exactly why curcumin has been seen to inhibit cancer.

Next week, at the AICR Annual Research Conference on Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer, an entire session has been devoted to the role of natural plant chemicals like curcumin in cancer prevention and treatment. During that session, Dr. Bharat B. Aggarwal of the MD Anderson Cancer Center will present data on the anti-inflammatory effect of curcumin and its role in preventing, and more effectively treating, cancer.

The Bottom Line

The laboratory evidence is impressive. However, we still know relatively little about curcumin’s effect in humans. In some laboratory studies, benefits are only seen from amounts of curcumin that far exceed the quarter-teaspoon of turmeric typically found in a serving of curry dishes.

Using modest amounts of turmeric, as is the tradition in Indian and North African cooking, is safe for most adults. Using large amounts might have some negative effects, from mild stomach upset to disturbing liver function or exacerbating existing gallbladder disease; we clearly need more research on this.

Recently, some studies have suggested that curcumin could have synergistic effects with compounds in onions or cruciferous vegetables. If borne out by further research, it’s possible that relatively small amounts could prove to exert important protective effects.

All Curry Powders are Not Alike

Although curcumin content will vary from one batch of the spice to another, the curcumin content of curry powder is even more variable, because curry powder is not just one spice, but a mixture of turmeric, cumin, fenugreek and other spices.

But whatever its potential anti-cancer power, turmeric provides flavor and color. You might consider adding a little extra turmeric when cooking, even if you start with a commercial curry powder as your base.

On November 5 and 6, you can stay informed by visiting for frequent updates from the floor of our Annual Research Conference.


The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $96 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, AICR is part of the global network of charities that are dedicated to the prevention of cancer. The WCRF global network is led and unified by WCRF International, a membership association that operates as the umbrella organization for the network. The other charities in the WCRF network are World Cancer Research Fund in the UK (; Wereld Kanker Onderzoek Fonds in the Netherlands (; World Cancer Research Fund Hong Kong (; and Fonds Mondial de Recherche contre le Cancer in France (

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