Via Michael Mosley, BBC News
‘Now I’m usually very cynical about such claims, but in the case of turmeric, I thought there could be something to it. There are at least 200 different compounds in turmeric, but there’s one that scientists are particularly interested in. It gives this spice its colour. It’s called curcumin.
We tracked down leading researchers from across the country and with their help recruited nearly 100 volunteers from the North East to do a novel experiment. Few of our volunteers ate foods containing turmeric on a regular basis.
Then we divided them into three groups.
We asked one group to consume a teaspoon of turmeric every day for six weeks, ideally mixed in with their food. Another group were asked to swallow a supplement containing the same amount of turmeric, and a third group were given a placebo or dummy pill.
The volunteers who were asked to consume a teaspoon of turmeric a day were ingenious about what they added it to, mixing it with warm milk or adding it to yoghurt. Not everyone was enthusiastic about the taste, with comments ranging from “awful” to “very strong and lingering”.
But what effect was eating turmeric having on them?
Prof Widschwendter is not particularly interested in turmeric but he is interested in how cancers start. His team have been comparing tissue samples taken from women with breast cancer and from women without it and they’ve found a change that happens to the DNA of cells well before they become cancerous.
The change is in the “packaging” of the genes. It’s called DNA methylation. It’s a bit like a dimmer switch that can turn the activity of the gene up or down.
The exciting thing is that if it is detected in time this change can, potentially, be reversed, before the cell turns cancerous. DNA methylation may explain why, for instance, your risk of developing lung cancer drops dramatically once you give up smoking. It could be that the unhealthy methylation of genes, caused by tobacco smoke, stops or reverses once you quit.’