A Moment of Science

Curry and Radiation Therapy

It seems that every day or so there is some new discovery about treatments for cancer. In this Moment of Science, we’ll discuss something that might provide dietary relief for people undergoing radiation therapy. Some of the side effects of radiation therapy, like overexposure to the sun, include burns and sometimes blisters on the skin. Nearly every cancer patient who undergoes radiation treatment suffers from some degree of this skin damage, and for many this damage is painful.

A substance in curry, already known to carry several health benefits, seems to protect skin during radiation therapy. The substance I’m speaking of is curcumin. It’s in turmeric, a curry ingredient. In fact, it’s what gives turmeric its yellow color. Curcumin is a natural anti-inflammatory compound; it has been shown to suppress tumor blood vessel growth, in effect strangling tumors.

Research with mice has shown that curcumin greatly reduces the damage radiation therapy does to skin, resulting in far fewer burns and blisters. In addition, curcumin seems to inhibit development of new cells in the area of the tumor, thereby stunting its growth and increasing the effectiveness of radiation. Further research is needed before curcumin might become a part of cancer treatment, but for now it might be a good idea for a patient to eat curried dishes while undergoing radiation therapy.

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