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Compound in the Spice Turmeric May Help Treat Colon Cancer

Last updated July 28, 2016

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Curcumin can be found as an active ingredient in turmeric, a spice present in many spicy curry dishes, whereas Silymarin can be found in milk thistle and can be used to treat liver disease.


Scientists at Saint Louis University have discovered that a combination of two plant compounds show a promising effect on treating colon cancer. The study on the two compounds, curcumin and silymarin, was published in the Journal of Cancer.

Curcumin can be found as an active ingredient in turmeric, a spice present in many spicy curry dishes, whereas Silymarin can be found in milk thistle and can be used to treat liver disease. Both of these phytochemicals are known for their medicinal properties.

In the laboratory, the team of researchers and students explored a line of colon cancer cells and found that initial treatment of the cells with curcumin and silymarin, respectively, was more successful in fighting cancer than those cells treated with either of these compounds alone.

The addition of curcumin and silymarin collectively stopped the colon cancer cells from spreading and multiplying. Moreover, the cancers cells that were pre-exposed to curcumin, and then subsequently treated with silymarin, underwent greater cell death.

This research shows promise for use of these phytochemicals in humans for the prevention of colon cancer; however, further research is needed to demonstrate if the plant compounds would be an effective treatment for patients with colon cancer.

Until further research is conducted to rule out any potential harm from these compounds, the author of the study, Uthayashanker Ezekiel, Ph.D., suggests only adding small amounts of the spice to one’s current diet, rather than incorporating a high intake of the compounds.

Primary Reference 

Montgomery, A., Adeyeni, T., San, K., Heuertz, R. M., & Ezekiel, U. R. (2016). Curcumin Sensitizes Silymarin to Exert Synergistic Anticancer Activity in Colon Cancer Cells. Journal of Cancer, 7(10), 1250.

Additional References 

(2016 Jul 22). Saint Louis University research: Plant compounds give ‘1-2’ punch to colon cancer. Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-07/slu-slu072216.php

(2016 Jun 10). 7 Health Benefits of Turmeric. Retried from http://www.dovemed.com/7-health-benefits-of-turmeric/

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: July 28, 2016
Last updated: July 28, 2016