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Doc: Turmeric helpful, but not a cancer preventative

November 7, 2018

Dear Dr. Roach: Is there any evidence that taking turmeric prevents cancer?

M.S.

Dear M.S.: There are hundreds of cancers, some of which we can treat and a few of which we can prevent. Turmeric cannot, unfortunately, prevent all cancers.

There are reasons to think that turmeric may have benefits. Some studies have suggested benefit in certain types of cancers, including leukemias and colon and prostate cancers, but I have to emphasize that turmeric (or its active substance, curcumin) is not, by itself, a completely effective preventive or treatment for cancer. Even people taking large amounts of turmeric and with an outstanding diet can get cancer. Turmeric may help other treatments (chemotherapy, radiation) work better; it may help people feel better so they can tolerate more treatment; and it has hormone-like effects that may be useful for treating some cancers and possibly harmful when treating others.

A recent study suggested that people who use alternative treatments for cancer had worse outcomes than people who did not. This prompts a reminder that potential therapies like curcumin should be recommended only as part of comprehensive cancer care and only after discussion with a cancer specialist.

Dear Dr. Roach: I am 75 years old and had a case of vertigo, along with an ear infection. An evaluation included an MRI and bloodwork, and a week later, the earache was gone. I was told that the vertigo was due to the earache.

The next week, I had a dentist appointment. I was feeling fine when I entered the dentist’s chair. The assistant reclined the chair, and a filling went well. When I was lifted back up, I was so dizzy that I felt like I had gotten off of a roller coaster. I had dry heaves. The next day I went to my druggist, and he suggested Bonine for motion sickness, but all it did was make me sleepy. Did the position of the dental chair cause the vertigo to come back? I’m afraid to go back to the dentist. What can I do?

D.

Dear D.: The most likely diagnosis is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. While I can’t be sure of this, the onset of severe symptoms with change in position is suggestive, and the fact that it came and went at least twice over a week or so is also consistent. Finally, an MRI scan (which is often not needed) rules out some of the more worrisome causes of vertigo.

BPPV is a common, probably the most common, cause of vertigo. Your description of feeling like you have gotten off a roller coaster is a powerfully evocative description of vertigo. Although BPPV will get better on its own, a physical maneuver can be performed by an experienced clinician that repositions the crystals inside the organ of balance, which help the brain determine which way is up. This sometimes can cure the symptoms immediately. Vestibular rehabilitation is effective for people with a more prolonged course.

If your symptoms don’t get better, it’s time to re-evaluate.

Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.

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