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A Spice of Life

Turmeric helps arthritis and cancer

Cooks sometimes refer to turmeric as "poor man's saffron," because its bright yellow-orange color resembles the more expensive condiment. But turmeric may be much more valuable in promoting health. Some evidence suggests that the spice that gives curry its characteristic color might also help ward off colon cancer and lessen the pain of arthritis.

A wire service story in The Times of India reports that in laboratory studies, a compound found in turmeric called curcumin selectively kills cancer cells. Another story from the paper says that curcumin appears to inhibit an enzyme in the body called cyclo-oxygenase 2. That's the same target of arthritis drugs like Vioxx (rofecoxib) and Celebrex (celecoxib).

Ananova reports that British researchers are studying whether turmeric can ease arthritis pain like the expensive prescription drugs. If nothing else, "Eating curry sounds like a very enjoyable way of easing pain," says a spokeswomen for Britain's National Arthritis Research Campaign.

Of course, drug companies won't spend much effort to verify the benefits of a potential arthritis treatment that's already sold in every supermarket. That may have encouraged 14-year-old Neal Amin to study it for his school science project. His results confirm the idea that turmeric might ease the pain of arthritis by reducing inflammation, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. "It doesn't impact the fundamental cause of the disease," says rheumatologist Bruce Smith. "It can make people feel better, however, and that's a good thing."

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