In a recent study concerning turmeric and skin cancer, as well as a few other plants in the ginger family, researchers determined that the plant extracts act by inhibiting oxidative stress and improving antioxidant defenses, which “might” be why the extracts protect against UVA associated melanoma. Other studies have shown that there is a protective effect, but the mechanism of action is, as yet, unclear.
When researchers are investigating the benefits of drugs and natural compounds, they usually try to explain “how” it works. Although in the case of many drugs on the market, including popular antidepressants, researchers were never able to explain how the drugs worked, only that the drugs were more beneficial than placebo. That’s about all that it takes to get FDA approval.
As just an interesting side note, recent studies indicate that the placebo effect is increasing. Interestingly, a sugar pill works 20-40% of the time. In some cases, it works even more often. As long as the volunteers are unable to determine (either by taste or appearance) whether or not they are getting the “active” compound, the placebo works just as well in 20-40% of all cases.
Studies concerning turmeric and skin cancer have yet to reach the stage where volunteers are recruited. But the placebo effect cannot have any impact on a disease like that. It isn’t just about how the patients feel. It’s about whether or not the disease is progressing or going into remission.
Researchers can access the effect that a compound is having on the cells and tumors. If the tumors are shrinking, then the compound is working.
So far, all of the studies concerning turmeric and skin cancer have been conducted using animals. Volunteers have been recruited for studies concerning other types of cancer, as well as for liver disorders, Alzheimer’s and arthritis.
In 2005, the Wall Street Journal reported that the research concerning curcumin was “exploding”. Curcumin is believed to be the medicinally active component of the spice.
Other plants in the same family have different medicinal activities, including ginger. The active compounds in ginger are referred to as gingerol. It works well for dizziness, nausea, motion sickness, tinnitus and Meniere’s disease among other health problems.
Any plant that has antioxidant activity has the potential to be useful for treating or preventing cancers of all kinds. Those that have natural anti-inflammatory activity have a higher potential to be effective. That’s why animal studies concerning turmeric and skin cancer have been conducted. In the test tube, curcumin has been shown to have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. It’s something of a “one-two punch”.
There are other plants that have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Alternative practitioners have developed something of a nutritional cocktail for the treatment of inoperable cancers and for those patients that prefer not to undergo surgery or chemotherapy.
Some of the better supplement manufacturers provide curcumin and other ingredients that are believed to be beneficial in preventing a number of age related diseases. Like the studies concerning turmeric and skin cancer, preliminary studies concerning the anti-aging effect of neutraceuticals have been positive.