Rosemary: A Cancer-Fighting Spice

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By Lindsey Garner, MD Anderson Staff Writer

rosemary.jpgParsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. To many, these spices are common recipe ingredients or lyrics from a popular 1960s Simon and Garfunkel song.

But research shows that these spices are much more than what they seem. They have the potential to prevent and treat cancer.

Bharat Aggarwal, Ph.D.
, professor in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at MD Anderson, led a 2009 research study on the use of spices in cancer prevention and treatment. The study covers 41 common dietary spices, including one that shows promise in treating skin cancer -- rosemary.

Combating a common cancer
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with more than 3.5 million cases diagnosed annually.

A 2006 study at the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur, India, tested rosmarinic acid (RosA), a phenolic compound in rosemary, on mice with stage II skin cancer. RosA was shown to suppress tumorigenesis, the formation of new tumors.

In addition, Aggarwal's study showed that rosemary, along with the other 40 spices studied, suppressed and blocked pro-inflammatory pathways in cancer cells. Inflammation is linked to common symptoms in cancer patients, such as depression, fatigue, neuropathic pain, metastases and tumor growth.

Therapeutic uses of rosemary
RosA has a broad range of therapeutic purposes. For example, as an:
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antiviral
  • Antimicrobial
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-allergic
Traditional medical practices in Asian countries use medicinal plants, herbs and spices containing RosA to decrease asthma symptoms and prevent seasonal allergies.

RosA is also found in:
  • Basil
  • Lemon balm
  • Mint
  • Perilla (an eastern medicinal plant)
More studies needed
Aggarwal's study concludes that more evidence is needed to fully demonstrate the potential that spices like rosemary have for preventing and treating cancer.
However, he emphasizes that incorporating spices into one's diet can help improve overall well-being and health.

"It's the best scenario in my mind," he says. "You're not doing any harm. In fact, you have evidence that you're doing some good. What could be better?"

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