Spice Up Your Life

Spice Up Your Life

Cancer protection is as close as your spice rack! Researchers are exploring the cancer-protective properties of common kitchen spices such as cinnamon, cumin, and turmeric.

Meet 10 spices that share one thing in common: research shows they may have cancer-protective properties.


The first of our cancer-protective spices, allspice gets its name from its distinctive aroma: a medley of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, juniper, and nutmeg. Made from the dried berries of the Pimenta dioica tree, it adds a smoky complexity to stews, meats, ciders, Middle Eastern dishes, and sweet desserts. Research has shown that allspice has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anticancer properties.


Cardamom has long been used as a healing herb in Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine. A common ingredient in Indian cooking, it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. When researchers combined cardamom and black pepper, these spices increased the anticancer activity of the body’s natural killer cells against one type of lymphoma.


Capsaicin, the compound which gives cayenne its kick, can also reduce pain by blocking the chemicals that carry pain messages to the brain. Capsaicin has been used to treat conditions ranging from poor circulation to stomach problems. Preliminary studies show that its anticancer properties may help to treat colon, prostate, and gastrointestinal cancers.


Deliciously sweet and spicy, cinnamon is made from the bark of an evergreen tree. It contains compounds that fight harmful bacteria. Used extensively in traditional Chinese medicine, cinnamon’s powerful antioxidants protect against free radical damage. In animal studies, its antitumour properties induced the death of cancer cells. High doses of cinnamon can be toxic.


Coriander possesses significant antibacterial properties and is rich in vitamins A and K. Its earthy yet peppery taste complements sauces and curries. One of the most widely used medicinal plants, coriander’s bioactive constituents are being studied for the treatment of cancer. Studies are also combining coriander with conventional drugs to enhance cancer treatments.


Cumin’s pungent, warm flavour is featured in Indian curries and Middle Eastern dishes. The subject of many research studies, considerable evidence indicates that cumin may suppress tumour cell proliferation in a variety of cancers. Researchers have cited cumin’s role as a free radical scavenger, as well as its potential ability to protect against estrogen-mediated breast cancer.


A long-time staple in French and Italian cooking, the fennel bulb adds a refreshing crunch to salads. Its dried ripe seeds and oil have been used since antiquity for medicinal purposes. Research on fennel has covered many areas ranging from colic to cancer. The active component of fennel seeds, anethole, reduced tumour size and increased survival time in animal studies.


Robust ginger has been a popular medicine and spice for thousands of years. Used to treat stomach upset and nausea and fight chronic inflammation, more than 115 bioactive compounds have been identified in ginger. Research is ongoing into the role they may play in preventing or suppressing cancer growth in a variety of cancers, including skin, breast, liver, and bladder.


Derived from the saffron crocus, saffron was once used as a dye for royal garments. Its golden-yellow hue is used in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine as a colouring base, often in desserts. Saffron may contain more than 150 bioactive compounds. Recent studies have focused on its ability to enhance the chemosensitivity of cells and its potential to treat pediatric cancers.


A member of the ginger family, turmeric’s main compound, curcumin, is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Early clinical trials have found that cumin has promising anticancer properties. Studies have shown that it may slow the spread of breast cancer to other parts of the body. In other studies, curcumin helped shrink tumours and boosted the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

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