The Spices of Cancer Protection


For centuries, cultures have used spices to improve health and ward off disease. Research is now helping to unravel how these flavor enhancers may also protect against cancer. From allspice to turmeric, the studied spices, with over 1,700 lab studies hundreds of available spices come published over the last few decades. A growing body of research – primarily lab studies is now zeroing in on the role specific spices may play in reducing cancer risk.

“There is more and more documentation that several compounds in spices have anti-cancer properties,” says John Milner, PhD, Director of the Human Nutrition Research Center at the US Department of Agriculture and co-author of a recent review of spices for cancer prevention.
One reason for the increased interest stems from lab studies demonstrating plausible pathways in which spices may work to reduce cancer risk.

The potential for spices to affect cancer risk is an appealing area of study for scientists because spices are non-caloric and eaten in combination with other foods. They are also easily incorporated into many dishes, adding flavor and variety.

There are dozens of spices that have pointed to cancer protection in lab studies, with much of the research in its early phases. Allspice has been shown to reduce inflammation and cell proliferation.


Cinnamon has suppressed the growth of the bacterium H. pylori, a major risk factor in gastric cancer. The bioactive component in cumin, thymo-quinone, seems to suppress tumor growth in colon, breast and pancreatic cells. Some of the more studied spices include turmeric and garlic. Research is emerging in other spices and cancer risk, such as black pepper.


Turmeric gets its yellow pigment from curcumin, a polyphenol that is the primary phytochemical scientists are investigating for its anticancer potential. In the lab, curcumin modulates cell signaling pathways, suppresses tumor cell proliferation and induces apopto- sis of cancer cells. There is evidence that curcumin can suppress inflammation and inhibit tumor survival, initiation, promotion, invasion and metastasis.

Black Pepper

One possible way to increase the bioavailability of curcumin may take adding an- other spice to the diet: black pepper. Studies suggest piperine, a phytochemical in black pepper, can increase the bioavailability of certain anti-cancer compounds in foods, which may translate into greater anti-cancer protection. Piperine, when tested independently, exhibits anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anticancer activities in cell studies.

Reference: AICR Science: