Culinary Spices and Cancer Prevention

Laine Bergeson on the cancer-fighting properties of spices.

Research has shown that almost the entire arsenal of culinary spices — from everyday black pepper to saffron and coriander — offer unique protective properties when it comes to cancer.

It works like this:

There’s a protein in all our cells called Nuclear Factor Kappa Beta (NFkB). It plays a role in cell survival and cell response to external stimuli (like stress and free radicals and radiation). When NFkB is inactive, it hangs out in the cell’s cytoplasm and doesn’t cause much trouble.

BUT when NFkB is activated — say by coming into contact with carcinogens or toxins or radiation or free radicals — it migrates to the cell nucleus where it hijacks everything and starts sending out signals that promote inflammation and “turn on” certain cancer genes (over 200 of them, in fact). Cancer researchers have dubbed NFkB the “Master Switch” that activates cancer genes.

Spices inhibit the activation of NFkB! In other words, they tell cancer’s Master Switch to shut up and stay in place!

Researcher Bharat Aggarwal, PhD, at the MD Anderson Cancer Center has identified foods that block NFkB, the majority of which are spices that you probably already have on your shelves! Here’s a partial list:

  • Basil
  • Black pepper
  • Caraway
  • Cardamom
  • Coriander
  • Chili pepper
  • Cumin
  • Curcumin
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Lemongrass
  • Mustard seed
  • Rosemary

Try to add some spice to every meal! Or drink chai!

TELL US: What are your favorite spices? Comment below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife.

is an Experience Life senior editor. 

Leave a Comment

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Newsletter Signup
Weekly Newsletter
Special Promotions