COMMENTARY | Vicky Sewart of the United Kingdom says she'll skip treatment with the drug Tamoxifen and instead, treat her breast cancer with spicy foods, a healthy diet and exercise. Sewart states in an article by The Telegraph that superfoods like turmeric make "'cancer cells commit suicide.'" Vicky Sewart has no medical training; she runs a jewelry gallery.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, Sewart received treatment for her cancer, which included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Vicky's breast cancer is estrogen-positive, meaning that the cancer uses the hormone to multiply. When her physicians recommended she take the drug Tamoxifen to prevent a recurrence, she declined. Sewart chose to fight her cancer with a healthy diet. She claims adding superfoods like turmeric to her diet will keep her breast cancer from returning. That's a pretty bold statement from someone lacking medical or nutritional training.
I understand the concerns about taking the drug Tamoxifen. It has serious side effects, but nothing like chemotherapy or radiation. My physicians recommend that I take this drug to treat my breast cancer -- I haven't made a decision yet. Alternative medicine is part of my treatment, but I would not promote any of the supplements I take or acupuncture treatments as a cancer cure -- nor would I claim that they cause me to remain cancer-free.
Will adding turmeric and other superfoods prevent a recurrence of breast cancer? Probably not. Scientific evidence shows a chemical found in turmeric, curcumin, kills cancer cells in laboratory dishes. I'm not sure where Sewart got the idea that turmeric makes cancer cells commit suicide.
Curcumin is found to reduce several forms of cancer in laboratory animals and retard tumor growth. Small studies show that taking 3.6 grams of curcumin is a high enough dose to measure in the blood. No studies to date have shown that adding the spice turmeric to food has any impact on cancer cells.
On the topic of superfoods -- this is a term the media loves but science avoids. There is no superfood that will cure cancer or prevent disease. Eating a variety of foods keeps you healthy and reduces the risk of chronic diseases. Vicky Sewart is cancer-free after four years, but you cannot say that is due to adding turmeric to her diet. She underwent aggressive treatment for her cancer. Perhaps the surgery, radiation and chemo has more to do with her cancer-free state than cooking with turmeric.
Lynda Altman was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2011. She writes a series for Yahoo! Shine called "My Battle with Breast Cancer."