Two common spices have been shown in laboratory testing to deliver a one-two punch to cancer cells: turmeric and black pepper. Turmeric and black pepper kill cancer cells by inhibiting their growth and by targeting stem cells, thereby preventing reoccurence of the cancer.
What the Studies Show
Madhuri Kakarala, MD Phd is a medical oncologist and researcher at the University of Michigan. She herself was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, and subsequently threw herself into research on what natural substances might be helpful in her fight. She published a fascinating study in Breast Cancer Research & Treatment which demonstrated the effect of curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) and piperine (the active ingredient in black pepper) on breast cancer.
The focus of her study was on why breast cancer can return, even in those patients who have seemingly been effectively treated. The reason is stem cells. Stem cells lie dormant and can, down the line, create entirely new groups of cancer cells in the body. Most existing treatments are ineffective against stem cells, but much of the focus of pharmaceutical companies more recently has been how to target these stem cells and prevent their differentiation into cancer cells.
In this published study, Kakalara demonstrated that relatively low concentrations of curcumin and piperine (at levels obtainable through dietary supplementation) are capable of killing breast cancer stem cells, without damaging normal breast cells. So unlike most conventional cancer treatment, the turmeric and black pepper do NOT cause universal cell damage but can selectively target the cancer stem cells themselves.
Turmeric and black pepper have been the subject of numerous anti-cancer studies (see my list at the bottom if you’d like to review the literature yourself). But this is the first study that demonstrates that turmeric (curcumin) and black pepper (piper nigrum) can pinpoint the actual stem cells without damaging healthy cells. This is huge.
Of course, this study has not been performing in clinical trials yet–finding the funding for such a trial will be challenging. However, both turmeric and piperine are perfectly healthy and tasty supplements that can easily be added to your diet, so why not do so? There are numerous other health benefits associated with these herbs, including anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, digestive and mental.
How To Add Turmeric and Black Pepper to Your Diet
There are numerous ways to incorporate these herbs into your diet. My thinking is that the amounts most people use turmeric and black pepper when they cook is probably not at therapeutic levels. Not to say it isn’t smart to cook with them: it definitely is. But in addition to using these herbs to cook with, I would say that incorporating them via a pill is a good addition to your health regimen.
It’s important to use organic versions of these herbs whenever possible, as conventional spices are treated with high levels of pesticides.
My Favorite Brands
Doctor Danielle Turmeric Curcumin. This formulation is organic and even includes a small amount of piperine (5 mg). It is an excellent formulation that is highly bio-available and gets rave reviews on Amazon.
Jarrow Curcumin 95. This is the brand I sell in my community acupuncture clinic because the price is right and the quality is good.
Starwest Botanicals Turmeric Powder. I use their herbs for my cooking and tea. The flavor and freshness is out of this world.
Source Natural Bioperine. Unfortunately there are not a ton of piperine products out there. Bioperine is the patented name of piperine (you knew someone had to patent it, right?) and Source Naturals is one of the few that provides a dosage of 10 mg per capsule, and at an exceptionally low cost. Most piperine (bioperine) is bundled with the turmeric in doses of 5 mg. Keep in mind that therapeutic dosages are not known at this time, so if you’d prefer to err on the ‘less is more’ side, the bundled turmeric-piperine capsules I listed above should be sufficient.
Speaking of Starwest Botanicals, they also produce some amazingly flavorful, eye-watering black peppercorns–I love them. You’ll be shocked at how different this pepper tastes when compared to the cruddy McCormick brand you find on the shelf at your local supermarket. This stuff is so potent! In fact, whenever possible, I recommend using spices and herbal teas from Starwest Botanicals instead of your local supermarket brands. The prices are great as well.
Further Research on Turmeric and Black Pepper
Yan Li et. al., Hepatic protection and anticancer activity of curcuma: A potential chemopreventive strategy against hepatocellular carcinoma, International Journal of Oncology 2014
Laura Wright et. al., Bioactivity of Turmeric-Derived Curcuminoids and Related Metabolites in Breast Cancer, Current Pharmaceutical Design, 2014
Elham Rouhollahi et. al, Inhibitory effect of Curcuma purpurascens BI. rhizome on HT-29 colon cancer cells through mitochondrial-dependent apoptosis pathway, BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015
Stephanie Kewitz, et. al. Curcuma Contra Cancer? Curcumin and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Cancer Growth and Metastasis, 2013.
Liu, Y. et al Inhibitory effects of black pepper (Piper nigrum) extracts and compounds on human tumor cell proliferation, cyclooxygenase enzymes, lipid peroxidation and nuclear transcription factor-kappa-B. An International Journal for Communications and Reviews, 2010.
Majdalawieh AF et al, In vitro investigation of the potential immunomodulatory and anti-cancer activities of black pepper (Piper nigrum) and cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), Journal of Medicinal Food, 2010. [Note: this study also explores the anti-cancer effect of cardamom]
Yafee PB et al., Piperine, an alkaloid from black pepper, inhibits growth of human colon cancer cells via G1 arrest and apoptosis triggered by endoplasmic reticulum stress, Molecular Carcinogenesis, 2015.