Cancer Fighters in Your Spice Rack
Fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants and other
cancer-fighting compounds have long been thought to curb one's
It now appears that another group of
foods--including turmeric (one of the major spices in curry
powder), red grapes, rosemary, and green tea--has joined the
ranks of these potent anticancer nutrients.
foods have properties resembling those of the COX-2
inhibitors--popular new arthritis drugs, such as Celebrex, that
have been dubbed "superaspirins."
COX-2 inhibitor drugs, so-called because they block an enzyme
called cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), are used to treat the pain and
inflammation of arthritis. There is now compelling evidence that
they may also protect against cancer.
Mitch Gaynor, M.D.,
director of medical oncology at the Strang Cancer Prevention
Center in New York, notes that suppressing COX-2 may be
beneficial because, "the COX-2 enzyme helps make carcinogens
much more active once they get into your body. The enzyme also
allows cancerous cells to grow new blood vessels."
A recent study pinpointed the importance of COX-2 in colon
cancer (Journal of the American Medical Association, 10/6/99).
Colon tumors with the highest COX-2 levels were larger, more
advanced, and more likely to have spread to the lymph nodes.
By contrast, the enzyme was undetectable in colon tissue from
cancer-free patients. High COX-2 levels appear to be fairly
ubiquitous in tumors.
Dr. Gaynor observes, "We found elevated
COX-2 levels in just about every solid tumor we looked at, from
lung cancer to breast, prostate, bladder, and colon cancer. We've
also demonstrated that when you inhibit COX-2, the cancer cells
The COX-2 inhibitor Celebrex has been shown to
strongly inhibit the development of colon cancer in animal
studies. Several clinical trials are now under way to determine
whether this and other COX-2 inhibitors have the same effects in
The good news is that a drug-free alternative to the synthetic
COX-2 inhibitors may be as close as your spice shelf. It appears
that certain foods are natural inhibitors of the COX-2 enzyme. By
incorporating these foods in your diet, you can obtain some of
the potential cancer-preventing benefits of the COX-2 inhibitors
Turmeric (curcumin) Dr. Gaynor observes, "Countries like India
and Pakistan, where the people eat a lot of curry, have a lower
incidence of various types of cancer." Curcumin, the ingredient
that gives turmeric its yellow color and one of the best studied
of the natural COX-2 inhibitors, has been shown to inhibit the
development of cancer in animals.
Dr. Chintalapally V. Rao, a
scientist with the American Health Foundation in Valhalla, New
York, has conducted extensive animal studies with curcumin and
notes that while the new drugs "undermine the activity of the
COX-2 enzyme, curcumin completely blocks formation of the
The intriguing evidence of curcuminís anticancer effects in animal
studies has prompted a clinical trial of the compound. Dr. Steven
Schiff at Rockefeller University in New York is assessing
curcumin supplements (250 mg twice a day) can inhibit the
development of colon cancer in people and plans to publish his
findings later this year.
Red grapes Another potent COX-2 inhibitor known as resveratrol
is produced in the skin of red grapes, where it protects against
oxidation and fungal infections. Resveratrol is found in grape
juice and red wine; red Bordeaux and French Cabernets contain a
particularly high concentration of the compound.
appears to help protect against cancer in at least three ways: It
has anti-inflammatory effects, it's a powerful antioxidant, and it
may prevent cancer cells from progressing to the next stage.
Supplements provide about 600 mcg of resveratrol, the amount
found in a glass of red wine.
Rosemary This common spice, another strong COX-2 inhibitor,
also increases the activity of detoxification enzymes. An extract
of rosemary, termed carnosol, has inhibited the development of
both breast and skin tumors in animals. Rosemary can be used
as a seasoning. It can also be consumed as a tea: Use 1 tsp.
dried leaves per cup of hot water; steep for 15 minutes.
Green Tea Green tea has also been shown to inhibit the COX-2
enzyme, and it has strong antioxidant effects as well. Several
population studies have indicated that green tea possesses
powerful anticancer effects. A clinical trial evaluating green tea
in cancer patients is currently under way at M. D. Anderson
Cancer Center in Houston.
Experts advise drinking four cups of
green tea daily. Alternatively, take two 250 mg green tea pills a
day. Select pills standardized to contain at least 50 percent
polyphenols, the active ingredients in green tea.
Finally, bee propolis, a sticky resin collected by
bees from pines and other trees, is "one of the most potent
COX-2 inhibitors," according to Dr. Gaynor. Dr. Rao has found
bee propolis very effective for cancer prevention in animals,
noting, "You can use it in lower doses than curcumin because it
is highly absorbable." It is typically sold as 500 mg capsules.
Suggested dose: Optimal doses of COX-2 foods or supplements
for cancer prevention (or arthritis pain and inflammation relief)
In the meantime, it seems reasonable to consume
COX-2 foods as part of a healthy cancer-fighting diet, along with
plenty of fruits and vegetables. So spread a little curry-rosemary
dip on your cracker, sip some green tea, and pour yourself a
glass of Cabernet.
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