Could eating curry treat breast cancer?

Eating curry might help to fight breast cancer, according to a new study. Experts say that an active ingredient of pungent substances, such as chilli and pepper, could help to prevent the growth of tumours.

Capsaicin caused triple-negative cells to die. At the moment, chemotherapy is the only treatment available for the most aggressive form of the disease. However, medics say that it unlikely that consuming large quantities of spicy food will help to treat cancer.

The research was carried out by a team at Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany who conducted tests on cell cultures which were designed to replicate triple-negative breast cancer. They then added capsaicin for several hours every day discovering that it activated a receptor which is connected to the disease.

Cancerous cells

The findings, revealed in the journal Breast Cancer – Targets and Therapy, have revealed this caused cancerous cells to divide more slowly. This also caused them to die in larger numbers, so that they could not spread around the body as easily.

Lead author Professor Hanns Hatt said that the research could lead to new treatments being developed for aggressive breast cancer. Capsaicin has previously been found to help to provide relief of muscle or joint pain which is caused by arthritis, for example. Other research has also found that it could be helpful in the fight against other forms of cancer.

Capsaicin was found to cause cells’ membranes to bind to their protective outer shell. However, in large doses, the membrane was pulled apart, which essentially led the cancerous cells to commit suicide.

Other studies have found that the spice has an effect on male testosterone levels. And, in previous research, scientists have found that arvanil, which has a similar make up to capsaicin, was effective in combating brain tumours in mice. But, because the substance also has serious, adverse side effects, it has not been approved for use in humans.

Judith is a qualified journalist who has worked in both the UK and the US, specialising in writing about politics, education and health.