Ask the Expert: Herbs and Spices

The Physicians Committee

Ask the Expert: Herbs and Spices

Q:  Do you have to eat garlic raw to get the health benefits?

A: Cook onions and garlic in an open skillet and nearly anyone who walks into your house will tell you how good it smells. The same sulfur-containing substances that make onions and garlic so aromatic are excellent cancer fighters. The protective chemicals in garlic and onions appear to block carcinogens from reaching their targets, destroy cancer cells, and suppress tumor growth. Cooking garlic and onions eliminates beneficial cancer-fighting compounds in garlic called allicin. You can reduce this loss by crushing garlic and allowing to stand for about 10 minutes before cooking with it.

Eaten regularly, garlic and onions are associated with as much as a 50 to 60 percent decreased risk of stomach and colorectal cancers. The cancer fighters in these tasty foods work whether they are raw or cooked, so enjoy fresh onions sliced on your veggie burger or as a topping for your black bean soup, or bake whole heads of garlic and spread the cloves (naturally sweetened by cooking) onto bread or crackers to take advantage of the benefits of these foods.

Le Bon AM, Siess MH. Organosulfur compounds from Allium and their chemoprevention of cancer. Drug Metabol Drug Interact. 2000;17:51-79.

Song K, Milner JA. The influence of heating on the anticancer properties of garlic. J Nutr. 2001;131:1054S-1057S.

Fleischauer AT, Poole C, Arab L. Garlic consumption and cancer prevention: meta-analyses of colorectal and stomach cancers. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72(4):1047-1052.

Q:  Are there any herbs and spices that are beneficial for cancer-patients or cancer survivors?

A:  There are certainly herbs and spices that you can use in cooking to help fight off cancer cells survival.. Curcumin, the active component of tumeric, is a powerful antioxidant, similar in strength to Vitamins C and E. It has a wide-ranging effect on the body’s immune system, acting on lymphocytes and other immune cells as well as enhancing wound healing.  Additionally, curcumin has been found to prevent tumor growth, kill cancerous cells, arrest the spread of cancer, and disrupt tumor blood supply in laboratory human studies. Ginger may offer cancer-preventive and therapeutic properties.  Fifty antioxidants from the rhizome of ginger have been identified.Scientists postulate that an anti-inflammatory agent that is also an antioxidant could have significant anticancer activity.  In fact, gingerol, one of the active compounds in ginger, has suppressed tumor growth, tumor blood supply, and killed cancerous cells in several human laboratory experiments. Ginger may also help fight nausea. The Cancer Project recommends consuming herbs and spices in whole food form, and does not recommend consuming dietary supplements without consulting with a doctor beforehand.

Mehta K, Pantazis P, McQueen T, Aggarwal BB. Antiproliferative effect of curcumin (diferuloylmethane) against human breast tumor cell lines. Anti-Cancer Drugs. 1997;8:470-481.

Dorai T, Cao YC, Dorai B, Buttyan R, Katz AE. Therapeutic potential of curcumin in human prostate cancer. III. Curcumin inhibits proliferation, induces apoptosis, and inhibits angiogenesis of LNCaP prostate cancer cells in vivo. Prostate. 2001;47(4):293-303.

Masuda Y, Kikuzaki H, Hisamoto M, Nakatani N. Antioxidant properties of gingerol related compounds from ginger. Biofactors. 2004;21:293-296.

Bode A. Ginger is an effective inhibitor of HCT116 human colorectal carcinoma in vivo. Paper presented at the Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research Conference, Phoenix, AZ, October 26-30 2003.

"The spice of life: cooking with herbs and spices not only livens up your meals, but may also help prevent disease". Food & Fitness Advisor. Sept 2006. 03 Jul. 2007.