Dr. Khalid is a health researcher and science writer with a Ph.D. in clinical research.
Can Herbs and Spices Lower Your Risk of Getting Cancer?
The systematic use of herbs and spices continues to transform approaches to health across the globe. The antioxidant properties of herbs not only help in boosting the immune system but also improve the biological functions of cells (Kaefer & Milner, 2011). The administration of various herbal combinations potentially enhances various cellular systems based on immunocompetence, differentiation, apoptosis, cell division, and metabolism. Cancer development in humans reciprocates with the abnormal and unregulated proliferation of cells (Cooper, 2000).
- Immunocompetence: The ability of a body to produce a normal immune response after exposure to an antigen.
- Cellular Differentiation: The process and ability for a cell to change from one cellular type with a particular function to another.
- Apoptosis: The normal death of cells in the cellular growth cycle.
- Cell Division: The cycle of replication that proliferates normally functioning cells.
- Cellular Metabolism: A series of biochemical reactions that "feed" the living cell and provide it with the necessary nutrients to survive.
The Basic Mechanics of Cancer
Cells affected by various types of cancers lose their normal physiological control and start invading other normal cells of the body. Eventually, the establishment of damaging cellular processes and their uncontrolled growth deteriorates the vital functions of the human body, thereby forcing it to experience disruption and early death. So far, no definitive remedy for cancer cessation has been developed by the scientific community. Research and development do, however, affirm the scope of adopting preventive measures for enhancing the healing processes to minimize the risk of cancer development in healthy individuals.
Modern medicine provides a range of powerful treatment combinations to heal various types of cancer. However, the occurrence of side effects and adverse events adds to the pain and suffering of cancer patients at an unprecedented level. Interestingly, herbal remedies and lifestyle measures prove to be the safest measures for potentially reducing the likelihood of cancer development in individuals of various age groups.
Herbs and Spices With Healthy Benefits
The following herbs and spices discussed below offer scientifically-backed cancer-fighting properties, though you should always talk to your doctor before adopting a medical regimen. I discuss the following herbs and spices below:
- Caraway Oil
1. Caraway Oil
Common Use: Carum carvi or Caraway is a herb of African, European, and Asian origin. The traditional use of caraway oil is in the treatment of appetite loss, pneumonia, and indigestion (Mahboubi, 2019).
Compounds of Interest: Caraway contains an oil rich in anethofuran, p-mentha-1,8-diene, and p-mentha-1,8-dien-2-one (Kaefer & Milner, 2011).
Cancer-Fighting Potential: Preclinical studies reveal the high potential of caraway oil in reducing the risk of skin and colon cancers. Caraway oil potentially disrupts carcinogen bioactivation while reducing the functionality of hematoma cells and cancer-causing genes. This oil is globally recognized for its antioxidant properties and effectively combats free radicals since it incorporates ‘reductones’ that are recognized for their hydrogen donating properties.
How to Use: The oral consumption of peppermint oil with 50-100 mg of caraway oil per day is recommended for obtaining the desired benefits. (For more information about dosing supplements and oils, visit this NIH site.) The use of caraway oil in skin rubs and mouthwashes is also recommended to effectively improve the blood circulation of the human body. The regular use of caraway oil in the form of a cooking spice is also recommended as a home remedy for improving the immune system. Additionally, the regular consumption of caraway oil is also recommended for controlling gastrointestinal spasms and heartburn.
Precautions: Caraway oil is not recommended for consumption when pregnant or for diabetic patients. Despite several clinical benefits of caraway oil, its medicinal use is still not scientifically proven and requires clinical studies to formalize its prescription by certified physicians.
Common Use: Eugenia caryophyllata tree’s flower buds prove to be the greatest source of clove, which is a commonly used flavoring agent in beverages and foods (Kaefer & Milner, 2011). Clove oil is extracted from the stems, leaves, flower buds (dried form), and oils. Clove is commonly used for pain management during dental procedures.
Compounds of Interest: The cancer-fighting properties of clove are derived from acetyl-eugenol, eugenol, terpenoids, and tannins.
Cancer-Fighting Potential: Extracts from clove have the potential to fight adenocarcinoma of the colon and liver. The extract of clove potentially disrupts β-catenin activity which eventually helps cease the development of gastrointestinal cancer. The eugenol in clove helps reduce the progression of infectious conditions in the human body.
How to Use: The appropriate dosage and mode of administration of clove depend on the age and health status of an individual. Therefore, the patients must consult a qualified physician to understand the dosage requirements of clove.
Precautions: Clove reportedly appears unsafe for pregnant women, children and surgery patients. Clove is available in the form of tincture, liquid, and tablet.
Common Use: Cardamom is a commonly utilized herb in Indian food items.
Compounds of Interest: Cardamom’s antioxidant enzymes including superoxide dismutase and catalase, that assist in improving the overall functionality of the heart and liver.
Cancer-Fighting Potential: The antioxidant properties of black cardamom assist in reducing the percentage of free radicals in the human body (Kaefer & Milner, 2011). The regular administration of cardamom oil improves the functionality of xenobiotic enzymes that help in reducing the risk of cancer. Furthermore, the proapoptotic, antiproliferative, and anti-inflammatory properties of cardamom help in controlling azoxymethane-induced gastrointestinal cancer and its complications. The regular consumption of black pepper with cardamom potentially increases the natural killer cells’ cytotoxic potential in a manner to reduce the risk of lymphoma development. Clinical studies reveal the health advantage of cardamom in the context of reducing blood pressure and bad cholesterol level in the human body (Verma, Jain, & Katewa, 2009).
How to Use: Regular consumption of cardamom tea and 250 mg powder with one teaspoon of honey is highly recommended to obtain the desired benefits.
Precautions: Outside of tea approved by the FDA purchased at the grocery store, patients should consult a qualified physician to understand the dosage requirements of cardamom for medical use.
Common Use: Ocimum basilicum or Basil (or Tulsi) is commonly used in Asian food dishes as well as supplement formulations.
Compounds of Interest: Compounds present in basil include eugenol, estragole, 1, 8-cineole, and linalool are primarily responsible for basil’s antibacterial, antiviral, antitumorigenic, antimutagenic, and antioxidant properties (Kaefer & Milner, 2011).
Cancer-Fighting Potential: Preclinical studies reveal the mammary cancer reduction potential of basil based on its ability to reduce the production of DMBA (9, 10-dimethyl-1, 2-benzathracene. Basil reportedly safeguards the gastric physiology, decreases bad cholesterol, controls blood sugar level, and reduces the risk of infection. These properties of basil help in minimizing the development of co-morbidities and clinical complications in cancer patients. Basil elevates the secretion of mucus cells in the stomach, thereby reducing the risk of stress-induced ulcers and wounds. The other significant health advantages of basil are based on its immunomodulatory, cardioprotective, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and adaptogenic effects (Jamshidi & Cohen, 2017).
How to Use: Basil is available in the form of capsules at various herbal pharmacies. The recommended dosage of basil varies between 300 mg–1800 mg.
Precautions: Talk to your doctor about the benefits and precautions of using basil.
Common Use: Allspice is extracted from the unripe berries of myrtle pepper (kurundu, Jamaica pepper, or the Pimenta dioica) tree (Kaefer & Milner, 2011). The leaves and seeds of P. dioica are also used in treating various disease conditions.
Cancer-Fighting Potential: Allspice has antiproliferative action and vasodilation properties. The antioxidant or oxygen scavenging potential of P. dioica potentially helps in improving the human immune system for effectively challenging cancer development. The leaves and berries of allspice contain an essential oil ‘eugenol’ that helps in inducing apoptosis of the cancer cells. Furthermore, the anti-proliferative, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antibacterial properties of eugenol help in protecting the human body from serious and life-threatening infections and toxic infestations (Zhang & Lokeshwar, 2012).
The flavonoid ‘quercetin’ in the berries of allspice controls the onset and development of cancer complications. The anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties of quercetin also assist in challenging the progression of serious and debilitating cancers and infectious disease conditions. The gallic acid in the berries of allspice help in combating cancer and reducing the risk of inflammatory and viral diseases. Similarly, ‘ericifolin’ in allspice berries helps in controlling the development of cancer cells and infectious conditions.
How to Use: The oral ingestion of several allspice oil drops is highly recommended per day for generating the antiproliferative and antibacterial outcomes. The admixture of allspice oil (2-3 teaspoons) with a single cup of water is recommended for obtaining its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Read more about ingesting allspice here.
Precautions: The exact dosage and administration pattern of allspice reciprocate with the desired therapeutic advantage and health risk of the concerned patient.
Common Use: Cinnamomum zeylanicum or cinnamon is widely utilized in herbal medicine based on its antioxidant potential (Kaefer & Milner, 2011).
Compounds of Interest: Cinnamon’s vital oils including cinnamate, cinnamic acid, and cinnamaldehyde contribute to its cardioprotective, antimicrobial, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.
Cancer-Fighting Potential: Cinnamon assists in improving the overall physiology of the colon, thereby reducing the risk of gastrointestinal carcinoma. Cinnamon not only assists in healthy tissue regeneration but also helps to improve the uterine blood flow in women. Cinnamon also helps in reducing the risk of bleeding based on its coagulation potential. Cinnamon potentially reduces the production of free radicals that helps in controlling the oxidative stress and risk of cancer development. Cinnamon consumption helps in elevating the levels of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, superoxide dismutase, and catalase that leads to the improvement in cellular integrity and oxidative potential of the treated patients. This resultantly improves overall physiological activities and liver function while minimizing the risk of oxidative damage.
How to Consume: The commonly utilized components of cinnamon include its leaves, bark, root, and fruit (Rao & Gan, 2014).
Precautions: Talk to your doctor about the benefits and precautions of using cinnamon.
Herbal supplements are potentially a promising bolster for cancer prevention. However, the lack of scientific research of the recommended herbs limits their formal approval by the medical community for cancer treatment. The administration of herbs with standard therapies or their regular use in day-to-day life is highly recommended to reduce the risk of cancer in healthy individuals if approved by your individual primary care practitioner. Prospective research studies are, therefore, necessarily required to testify cancer prevention potential of herbal supplements in a variety of patient care scenarios.
Cooper, G. M. (2000). The Development and Causes of Cancer. In The Cell: A Molecular Approach (2 ed.). Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK9963/
Jamshidi, N., & Cohen, M. M. (2017). The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 1-13. doi:10.1155/2017/9217567
Kaefer , C. M., & Milner, J. A. (2011). Herbs and Spices in Cancer Prevention and Treatment. In I. Benzie, & S. Wachtel-Galor, Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. Boca Raton (Florida): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92774/
Mahboubi, M. (2019). Caraway as Important Medicinal Plants in Management of Diseases. Natural Products and Bioprospecting, 9(1), 1-11. doi:10.1007/s13659-018-0190-x
Rao, P. V., & Gan, S. H. (2014). Cinnamon: A Multifaceted Medicinal Plant. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 1-12. doi:10.1155/2014/642942
Verma, S. K., Jain, V., & Katewa, S. S. (2009). Blood pressure-lowering, fibrinolysis enhancing and antioxidant activities of cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum). Indian Journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 46(6), 503-506. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20361714
Zhang, L., & Lokeshwar, B. L. (2012). Medicinal Properties of the Jamaican Pepper Plant Pimenta dioica and Allspice. Current Drug Targets, 13(14), 1900-1906. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3891794/
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2020 Dr Khalid Rahman
sarahkhalid on February 19, 2020:
Herbs are very good of us . I like it dr. Khalid.
Dr Khalid Rahman (author) from India on February 01, 2020:
Thanks for your insightful and valuable feedback :-)
Lorna Lamon on February 01, 2020:
This is an excellent and informative article and frankly I was not aware of the beneficial properties of these herbs as an aid in the prevention of cancer. I do use the majority of them in cooking, however, I shall definitely look at them in a different light. I believe that medical science have found less invasive ways to treat cancer, however, the side effects are still a problem.Thought provoking.