Studies have shown that sambar can help prevent colon cancer but this needs more evaluation and trials on a wider population. There is need to carry out more robust clinical trials.
Sambar, the traditional dish of South India, has spices that have the ability to fight against colon cancer
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, scientific studies have shown. However, there is a need to establish this on a broader population before arriving at a conclusion on the claim, especially the preventive properties that has in it against cancer.
Studies have documented the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects of spices, which might be related to prevention and treatment of several cancers including colon.
Indian spices in the sambar includes coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, turmeric, rhizomes, black pepper, curry leaves, cumin seeds, and asafoetida. Sambar powder has anti-tumorigenic properties that can counteract the formation of tumours. There is a thought that sambar does not affect the lining of the intestine and prevents the development of dimethylhydrazine (DMH), which is responsible for colon cancer.
A pre-clinical study published in Pharmacognosy Magazine, maintains that consumption of sambar significantly reduced aberrant crypt foci in DMH-induced colon cancer. The dish may prevent the risk of colon cancer when consumed in dietary proportions as it consists of a variety of spices that exhibit both pro- and antioxidant properties in different tissues.
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The study investigated the effects of sambar on colon cancer prevention in Wistar albino rats induced with 1,2-dimethyl hydrazine (DMH). Sambar consumption significantly reduced aberrant crypt foci and prevented DMH-induced oxidative changes in colonic tissue, indicating its antioxidant role. Sambar and its antioxidant properties in different tissues contributed to its overall beneficial effect in the DMH-induced colon cancer model.
The study showed significant reduction in aberrant crypt foci in DMH induced colon cancer model. Sambar treatment prevented DMH-induced oxidative changes in the colonic tissue, indicating its antioxidant role.
The aim of the study was to evaluate the antitumor potential of iminoflavones in in vitro and in vivo anticancer models. Preliminary screening in various cancer cell lines revealed four potential iminoflavones out of which IMF-8 was taken based on its activity against colon cancer cells.
According to estimates from GLOBOCAN 2020, there are 1.15 million new cases of colon cancer across the globe. This was expected to rise to 1.91 million in 2040.
Rising incidence of colon cancer is largely due to change in diet patterns which includes a diet rich in red meat, processed sugars and high sugar containing drinks, lack of physical exercises. A wide variety of spices used as food flavouring agents possess potent antioxidant, antiinflammatory, and anticancer properties due to the presence of certain bio-active compounds in them.
Research studies have cited that turmeric in sambhar have curcuminoids, which are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. And, curry leaves used in sambar are rich in powerful antioxidants, have anti- mutagenic potential and can protect us from various types of cancer.
Moreover, the flavonoids found in curry leaves also act as anti-cancer agents. The sambar is also loaded with vegetables that is healthy for the stomach and intestine.
A recent social media post on the benefits of sambar in preventing colon cancer had also become popular. He also spoke on the study that involved two groups of mice where one was given water and the other was given sambar. Both the groups were also given DMH which is associated with the cancerous activities in the intestine.
Global research studies in the past more than a decade have also outlined the positive results that curcumin and some other spices has in preventing some cancers including the colon cancer. There is a growing body of scientific literature from across the world, including studies from the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition, which highlight properties such as anti-inflammation, antioxidant and anti-tumour attributed to curcumin.
A study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, found that a pill containing large doses of curcumin (a chemical found in curry and turmeric) and quercetin, an antioxidant found in onions, helped prevent precancerous polyps in several people at high risk for colon cancer. Clinical trials had shown that food chemicals reduced the size and number of the pre-cancerous growth which if left untreated could lead to colon cancer.
Evaluation on bigger population
The study showing that sambar can help prevent colon cancer but this needs more evaluation and trials on a wider population. There is need to carry out more robust clinical trials.
Prateek Sharma, Professor of Medicine and Blaylock Cancer Research Professor at the University of Kansas Cancer Center says that the animal-based study suggests that sambar may prevent the risk of colon cancer when consumed in dietary proportions. However, he said that it still remains to be seen whether this preclinical study holds true in the population. This can provide a good hypothesis for this to be tested in case control studies. If shown to be positive, it provides another clue towards lifestyle and environmental factors in colon cancer development.
In India, the annual incidence rates for colon cancer and rectal cancer in men are 4.4 and 4.1 per 1,00,000, respectively. The annual incidence rates for colon cancer in women is 3.9 per 1,00,000. the treatment options for colon cancer include surgery to remove the tumour, radiation therapy and chemotherapy depending upon the stage of the cancer.
However, there is no evidence that in South India , where sambar is the staple food has less cases of colon cancer. The National Cancer Registry Report (2012-2016) presented data from 28 Population Based Cancer Registries (PBCRs). And this revealed that the incidence of colon cancer was high in South India. A comparison of Age Adjusted Incidence Rates (AARs) among the males of 28 PBCRs under NCRP showed Thiruvananthapuram was 4.7 , Chennai was 4.2, Bangalore 4,2, Kollam, 4.0 Hyderabad 3.9 Among females the AAIRs was Chennai 3.6 Bangalore 3.4, Thiruvananthapuram 3.1 and Hyderabad 3.1.
There is therefore no concrete evidence that South India has less cases of colon cancer than North India.
—The author, Dr Vanita Srivastava, is an independent science and health writer. The views expressed are personal.
Read her previous articles here
(Edited by : C H Unnikrishnan)
First Published: Mar 10, 2023 11:15 AM IST
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