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Chemical in Curry May Cut Colon Cancer

Treatment Based on Curry and Onions Reduced Precancerous Intestinal Growths

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 2, 2006 -- An ingredient found in many curries may help prevent colon cancercancer.

A small clinical trial showed the food chemicals reduced the size and number of precancerous growths in the intestinal tract. If left untreated, such growths commonly lead to colon cancer.

The experimental combination contained a chemical found in turmeric, the spice that gives curries a yellow color, and an antioxidant found in onions called quercetin.

Observational studies in people who eat large amounts of curries with these ingredients, as well as animal tests, have suggested that curcumin, the yellow pigment extracted from turmeric, may help prevent colon cancer, say the researchers.

Studies have also shown that quercetin, one of a group of antioxidants known as flavonoids and found in onions, green tea, and red wine, inhibits the growth of cancer cells in humans and rats.

Curry Treatment

In the study, published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, researchers evaluated the use of these curry ingredients as a potential colon cancer drug in five people with a rare genetic condition that causes the growth of precancerous polyps in the intestines.

The condition, Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), is usually inherited.

If the colon is not surgically removed, there is a 100% chance some of the polyps will develop into cancer, usually by age 40.

All participants in this study had had their colons removed, but still had remnants of their intestines. Internal exams were done before the start of treatment to record the baseline number and size of polyps present.

Each of the patients then received 480 milligrams of curcumin and 20 milligrams of quercetin three times a day for six months.

The results showed that treatment with the curry and onion compounds reduced the average number of polyps by 60%, and decreased their size by 50%.

Although study participants received the two substances together, the researchers believe curcumin was the key ingredient.

"The amount of quercetin we administered was similar to what many people consume daily. However, the amount of curcumin is many times what a person might ingest in a typical diet, since turmeric only contains on average 3% to 5% curcumin by weight," researcher Francis M. Giardiello, MD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says in a news release.

Because of this, Giardiello says simply eating curry and onions may not have the same effect as was seen in this study.

This study is the first to show curry ingredients reduce precancerous polyps in people at risk for colon cancer, the researchers say. Further studies are planned.

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