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18 Powerful Spices Scientifically Proven To Prevent and Treat Cancer

Many foods and natural ingredients are said to possess anticancer properties. However, these properties haven’t been proven in all of these foods.

What is proven however, is that the following 18 spices do have the capacity to prevent and treat cancer.

1. Basil

This culinary herb originates from India, but it’s an integral spice in the Southeast Asian and Italian cuisine. There are many varieties of basil, but the most frequently used and analyzed for its healing properties is the sweet basil. It contains 1,8-cineole, linalool, eugenol, and estragole thanks to which basil possesses antiviral, antimutagenic, antibacterial, antioxidant, and antitumorigenic properties (Makri and Kintzios 2007; Chiang et al. 2005; Muller et al. 1994).

Basil has been proven to reduce induced carcinogenesis. Swiss mice were given basil extract in the amount of 150 or 300 mg/kg body weight, and the results showed that the extract reduced the Dimethylbenz[a]anthracene-induced skin tumors (18.75% reduction for higher doses, and 12.5% reduction for lower doses), and reduced the tumor burden per mouse. The tumor burden was around 4.6 times lower in the high-dose basil group, and 2.4 times lower in the low-dose basil group.

Basil’s anticancer properties might also relate to its capacity to affect viral infections. Hepatitis B patients are known to be at higher risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (Ishikawa 2010; Fung, Lai, and Yuen 2009). In 2005, Chiang et al. analyzed the antiviral effects of selected basil constituents and basil extract in a cell line derived from hepatoblastoma HepG2 cells and in a human skin basal cell carcinoma cell line against few viruses, among which was hepatitis B.

2. Allspice

Allspice, also known as “myrtle pepper,” “Jamaica pepper,” “newspice,” “pimenta,” is not a mixture of spices as most people think. It’s derived from the dried unripe berries of the Greater Antilles’s native tree called Pimenta dioica. Although originally found in southern Mexico, and Central America, this tree is now cultivated in many warm places throughout the world. You can also found this spice as an essential oil.

Allspice has antioxidant, antimicrobial, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti tumorigenic, and anticancer properties (Kluth et al. 2007; Al-Rehaily et al. 2002; Rompelberg et al. 1996). It includes catechins, phenolic acids, flavonoids, and few phenylpropanoids in its content. These bioactive agents can promote our health.

The ability of this spice to affect cytochrome P450 (CYP) activity, and thus the carcinogen bioactivation is in fact its anticancer properties. Kluth et al. (2007) studied the ability of allspice extract to activate mechanisms associated with detoxification enzymes, by culturing human colon adenocarcinoma cells and human liver carcinoma cells.

3. Cardamom

This spice is commonly used in the Indian cuisine, as well as in parts of Europe. Cardamom has been proven to possess antioxidant properties. In 2001, Kikuzaki, Kawai, and Nakatani analyzed black cardamom extracts for their capacity to scavenge radicals.

Banerjee et al. (1994) showed that cardamom has ability to hinder chemical carcinogenesis. His analysis showed that consuming cardamom oil influence the enzymes related to xenobiotic metabolism, which suggests that the oil acts as a deterrent to cancer.

Thanks to its proapoptotic, antiproliferative, and anti-inflammatory properties, cardamom has been shown to reduce azoxymethane-induced colon carcinogenesis.

4. Caraway

Also known as “Persian cumin” or “meridian fennel”, caraway is native to Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. In 2010, Kapoor et al. proved that the essential oil from this spice and oleoresins were effective as antioxidants, even more than commercial butylated hydroxytoluene and butylated hydroxyanisole.

In 1993, Schwaireb analyzed the effects of dietary caraway oil on skin tumors induced by croton oil and Dimethylbenz[a]anthracene in female mice. The results showed that the number of the animals who received caraway oil was significantly lower than in controls.

Caraway can modify carcinogen bioactivation which means it can affect carcinogen activaton. Changes in phase I and II enzyme are consistent with caraway’s ability and its active compound to reduce chemically induced cancers.

5. Cinnamon

This spice is produced from an evergreen tree’s bark, which is part of the Lauraceae family. The most important constituents in cinnamon are eugenol, cinnamaldehyde, α-pinene, terpinene, safrole, carvacrol, benzyl benzoate, linalool, and coumarin.

To keep cancer away from you, just consume ½ a teaspoon of cinnamon powder on a daily basis. Cinnamon is a natural food preservative, and a source of calcium and iron. It also decreases the growth of tumor.

Cinnamon extract has ability to suppress the in vitro growth of Helicobacter Pylori, a well-known factor for MALT lymphoma on the stomach, gastric cancer, and pancreatic cancer. The potential use of cinnamon to suppress human cancers caused great interest among researchers (Eslick 2006; Farinha and Gascoyne 2005)

In 1999, Dhuley showed that mice treated with cinnamon bark powder have drastically raised several enzymes related to antioxidants in heart and liver tissue, as oppose to controls. These antioxidant-related enzymes help preserve cellular integrity and protection from free radical-oxidative damage.

6. Cayenne Pepper

This spice is also known as cow-horn pepper, Guinea spice, bird pepper, aleva, or red pepper in its powdered form – a hot chili pepper. Besides ripe, the spice is also eaten when green.

This spice has been proven to help weight loss, lower blood pressure and curb appetite. However, it contains a component that is able to destroy cancer cells. This component is the same to that which gives heat to jalapeno peppers.

Capsaicin, the active compound in cayenne pepper, has shown to lead prostate cancer cells to suicide. According to researchers, in future, capsaicin-containing pills can be given as a therapy to prevent recurrence of prostate cancer.

Mice experiment showed that capsaicin caused the death of 80% of prostate cancer cells. The size of prostate cancer tumors treated with the active compound of cayenne pepper, capsaicin, were 5 times smaller than those in untreated mice.

In 2006, the professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, director of hematology and oncology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and lead researcher, Dr. H. Phillip Koeffler, stated that capsaicin hinders the human prostate cancer cell growth in mice and Petri dishes.

7. Coriander

This herb is indigenous to northern Africa, southern Europe, and southwestern Asia. It belongs in the family Apiaceae. Its dried seeds and fresh leaves are mostly used in cooking, as a common ingredient in many dishes throughout the world. Linalool is one of the main constituent of coriander.

Few animal studies suggests that seeds from this plant promote the hepatic antioxidant system. One Swiss mice research showed that mice which were given 160 milligrams coriander seeds per gram diet, led to GST (glutathione S-transferase) induction, ranging from 20 to 37 percent, regarding the examined tissue. The doubling in glutathione S-transferase activity in Swiss albino mice which received diet with coriander oil was also analyzed (Banerjee et al, 1994).

8. Clove

Clove is used in cuisines of many nations throughout the world, but is native to Indonesia. It contains several bioactive components, including terpenoids, tannins, acetyleugenol, and eugenol. Several mice studies have shown its efficiency in preventing cancer, and in modifying detoxification processes. Nevertheless, its cancer preventive properties still haven’t been proven in any human study.

Clove is a good source of eugenol. But, since this constituent can’t improve the gastrointestinal promoter activity, it points to the fact that clove contains other compounds that are responsible for its biological activity, as said by Kluth et al. 2007. The evidence to date showed that tissues adapt to clove constituents exposure. Therefore, clove can enhance the ability of some tissues to deal with foreign compounds which can result in initiation of carcinogenesis. Additional clinical studies need to determine the clove’s ability to affect drug detoxification pathways.

9. Dill

In autumn, this herb is used for its seeds, and in early spring, for its leaves. This short-lived perennial spice promotes drug detoxification mechanisms. In 1992, Zheng, Kenney, and Lamsuggest that due to the ability of dill to protects cells against free-radical species and maintain cellular oxidation-reduction balance, its increased variety and levels of antioxidants can help detoxify carcinogens and other foreign compounds.

10. Cumin

Cumin is native to India and the eastern Mediterranean region. This plant belongs to the family Apiaceae. The most abundant component in black cumin oil is thymoquinone, which has been proven to provide anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and chemopreventive effects (Nader, el-Agamy, and Suddek 2010; Allahghadri et al. 2010).

Thymoquinone prevents proliferation of prostate cancer cells, and tumor cells in case of breast adenocarcinoma, colorectal carcinoma, ovarian carcinoma, osteosarcoma, pancreatic carcinoma, and myeloblastic leukemia (Gali-Muhtasib, Roessner, and Schneider-Stock 2006).

11. Garlic

Garlic is part of the family Alliaceae. It has long history of usage thanks to its medicinal and culinary properties. Its distinctive characteristics come from sulfur which takes up nearly one percent of its dry weight. Garlic may not contain high levels of important nutrients, but it offers health benefits thanks to the presence of arginine-rich proteins, oligosaccharides, and selenium and flavonoids – depending on the growing conditions and the soil.

Preclinical models have proven that garlic and its components can reduce the risk of colon, breast, esophagus, uterine, and lung cancer. One of the most likely mechanisms by which this food hinders cancer is suppression of nitrosamine formation.

Garlic’s ability to hinder tumors in different tissues, due to different cancer-inducing agents, suggests that generalized cellular event is probably the reason for the changed risk of tumor, and that the response is extremely dependent on different types of biological insults such as the environmental ones. There’s a possibility of altered phase I or phase II enzymes, due to the requirement of metabolic activation for any of these carcinogens.

Achieving maximum tumor inhibition requires breakdown of allicin. In 1997, Sakamoto, Lawson, and Milner suggest that allyl sulfur compounds suppress neoplastic over nonneoplastic cells.

The response to allyl sulfurs is clearly showing that it’s associated with their ability to create free radicals than to act as antioxidant (Antosiewicz et al. 2008). They might cause changes by affecting the genomic expression, impacting the histone homeostasis.

12. Fennel

Fennel is part of the family Apiaceae, and species in the genus Foeniculum. This perennial, hardy, and umbelliferous plant has feathery leaves and yellow flowers. You can find it in dry soils near riverbanks or sea-coasts on various parts of the world, but it originally comes from the Mediterranean.

Anethole found in fennel explains some of its medicinal properties. Its polymers, as well as itself, act as phytoestrogens. The spice is packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients, so cancer cells must accept their defeat. Anethole restricts and resists the invasive and adhesive activities of cancer cells. It prevents enzymatic regulated activities behind multiplication of cancer cells.

13. Oregano

Origanum vulgare, or oregano, is part of the mint family. It is indigenous to the Mediterranean region and the warm-temperate western and southwestern Eurasia.

This herb is rich in flavonoids and phenolic acids, thanks to which it provides strong antioxidant properties. Its antimicrobial activity against strains of Listeria monocytogenes has been shown in test-tube studies.

Oregano is a potential agent against prostate cancer cells. It contains anti-microbial compounds, and the power of 1 teaspoon of oregano equals to that of 2 cups of red grapes. Quercetin is a phyto-chemical contained in oregano which has the power to limit the malignant cell growth, at the same time functioning as a drug against cancer-centric diseases.

14. Ginger

Ginger belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, and it’s widely consumed spice as well as medicinal agent.

Its role in the prevention of cancer has been analyzed in various animal researchers. In 2006, male Wistar rats were exposed to tumors resembling human papillary urothelial neoplasia (low-grade) (Ihlaseh et al.). Rats given basal diet containing one percent ginger extract in a period of 26 weeks, showed drastically less urothelial lesions in comparison with those given a diet containing 0.5 percent ginger.

It seems that ginger also provides antitumorigenic effects. Few cell clines were analyzed for their ginger sensitivity. For instance, alcoholic ginger extracts hindered the growth of tumor cells for human lymphocytes and Dalton’s lymphocytic ascites tumor cells.

The findings of anticancer properties of ginger are quite intriguing, but more studies are needed to determine the overall ginger benefits to humans and to clarify its underlying mechanisms (Pan et al. 2008).

15. Saffron

This spice is produced from the saffron crocus flower, native to southwest Asia. It used to be the most expensive spice per unit weight in the world. It gives a hay-like fragrance and bitter taste to food. There are over 150 aroma-yielding and volatile compounds in saffron. The golden-yellow hue that saffron gives to dishes is due to the presence of carotenoid, which comprises less than ten percent of the dry saffron mass. Its flavor comes from the bitter glucoside – picrocrocin.

The most important and potent cancer-fighting compound in saffron is the natural carotenoid – crocetin. Besides hindering the cancer progression, it also reduces the size of the tumor by half, thus guaranteeing termination of cancer. Half a kilo of saffron is produced from around 250,000 flower stigmas, which makes this spice to be the most expensive one on the Planet. But, the health benefits you will receive are surely worth the price.

Saffron has ability to hinder cancer (Abdullaev 2003). In 2004, Das, Chakrabarty, and Das S. suggested that the preparations of aqueous saffron hinder chemically induced skin carcinogenesis. It seems there are indeed changes in tumor proliferation and carcinogen bioactivation.

Crocus and saffron provide important antitumorigenic effects. They seem to be more effective in inhibiting cell growth in neoplastic cells than in normal ones (Aung et al. 2007). Crocin’s ability to reduce cell viability, happens in a time- and concentration-dependent way (Bakshi et al. 2009).

Suppressing the tumor affects the longevity of the host. An important raise in the Dalton’s lymphoma-bearing animals’ life span was shown in those given saffron.

16. Thyme

Another medicinal and culinary herb which is part of the Lamiaceae family is thyme. It includes the following active agents: carvacrol, terpinene, thymol, tannins, luteolin, and other oils.

In 2001, the thyme effects on enzyme induction of human colon adenocarcinoma cells and human liver carcinoma cells were examined by Kluth et al. They analyzed the extract of thyme to activate promoters through electrophile responsive element. In this way, they received potential clues about the carvacrol and thymol mechanisms, by which they affect the enzyme expression and prevent cancer.

Countless studies have proven that cancer doesn’t appear as a consequence of aging, but it’s a disease that can be prevented. The evidence offered in this post show that spices can be an important factor in a person’s diet which can reduce the risk of cancer and influence the behavior of tumor. People have consumed spices for centuries for different reasons, like colorants, flavoring agents, or preservatives. But the existing evidence shows that spice can affect multiple processes, including apoptosis, proliferation, immunocompetence and angiogenesis.

17. Rosemary

The needle-like leaves of this woody herb have unique fragrance and bitter, astringent taste which complement a variety of dishes. Rosemary is indigenous to the Mediterranean region, and is part of the family Lamiaceae. Its content includes potentially biologically active compounds, such as rosmarinic acid, carnosic acid, camphor, ursolic acid, caffeic acid, rosmaridiphenol, betulinic acid, and rosmanol. Dry rosemary leaves contain up to 20 percent of camphor.

Raw and refined extracts of rosemary can be find easily nowadays, thanks to its potent antioxidant properties. In 2007, Dragan et al. suggest that when this herb is added to the production of balsamic vinegar used in salads and soups, along with other herbs, it protects humans from oxidative stress.

Extracts or isolated components of rosemary can hold back chemically induced cancers. One example is provided by Huang et al. in 1994, when topically applied extract of rosemary has shown to block the initiation and promotion skin tumorigenesis phases.

The active components of rosemary, rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid, as well as the rosemary extracts have been shown to hamper the proliferation of different human cancer cell lines including, human prostate carcinoma, human, small cell lung carcinoma, human liver carcinoma, human breast adenocarcinoma, human chronic myeloid leukemia, human breast adenocarcinoma, and human prostate adenocarcinoma (Yesil-Celiktas et al. 2010).

18. Turmeric

The last but not least, turmeric plant belongs to the family Zingiberaceae. It is one of the most important constituents of the Ayurvedic medicine, and has been used in India for thousands of years. Before the discovering of its potent medicinal properties, turmeric was first used as a dye.

The active compound of turmeric, curcumin, provides anti-diabetic properties, inhibits inflammatory reactions, lowers cholesterol, etc.  Researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat in Munich conducted a study which showed that it can as well prevent formation of metastases.

James A. Duke, Phd, is a respected ethnobotanist who published a review of 700 studies concerning turmeric. According to him, the herb outperforms many medications in the treatment of certain chronic, debilitating diseases, without almost no side effects.

Besides coloring our meals, this spice is number one when it comes to treating cancer. Many clinical trials have proven that its active compound and powerful polyphenol called curcumin can retard the growth of melanoma, prostate cancer, brain tumor, breast cancer, leukemia, and pancreatic cancer cells. Curcumin causes programmed cell death, known as apoptosis, killing cancer breeding cells while not affecting the healthy ones. On the other hand, conventional chemotherapy and radiotherapy do affect the healthy cells surrounding the cancer, which results in terrible and imminent side effects.

Curcumin, as well as turmeric are described as an effective means in the prevention and treatment mammary cancer, colon cancer, murine hepato-carcinogenesis, prostate cancer, oral cancer, and esophageal cancer in animal models. This is stated in the handbook Phytochemicals: Mechanisms of Action by Dyke.