With its steaming heaps of spices like ginger, turmeric, chilli and garlic, the nation's favourite dish can provide not only a tasty winter supper but a number of hidden health benefits as well.

Research has found that curry ingredients have properties which may be able to help us fight off some of today's most prevalent diseases, such as Alzheimer's, thrombosis and possibly even cancer.

With National Curry Week starting next week (November 22 to 28), there's never been a better time to try out your favourite dish while reaping the health benefits. You can also help to do good, as the week, now in its 11th year, promotes not only Indian cuisine but raises funds for international charities dedicated to eradicating hunger, malnourishment and poverty.


The yellow spice that gives curry its colour, turmeric has long been used worldwide as an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial agent, thanks to a chemical present in the spice called curcumin.

Curcumin's medicinal properties are now also thought to be able to protect liver and kidney function, ward off Alzheimer's disease and even kill cancer cells.

Recent research from the Cork Cancer Research Centre found that curcumin started to destroy oesophagal cancer cells in the lab within 24 hours, says Dr Sharon McKenna, who led the research.

"Turmeric has long been used traditionally to treat anti-inflammatory conditions, so we were interested in determining its chemo-preventative qualities," she explains, speaking on behalf of the Science: So What? So Everything campaign, which highlights the science behind our everyday lives, including the hidden health benefits of curry.

"We found that it was very effective at killing off the oesophagal cancer cells - surprisingly more effectively than commonly used agents."

Curcumin is already being used to treat arthritis and dementia, while research is also under way to establish its effect on pancreatic cancer, multiple myeloma and colorectal cancer.

US researchers are also looking at a connection between curcumin and its ability to inhibit the accumulation of destructive peptides in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, as well as break up existing plaques associated with the disease.


Chillies raise the heart rate, increase perspiration and release endorphins due to capsaicin, a substance which gives chillies their 'heat'.

Capsaicin is commonly used as a painkiller to help manage arthritis, diabetic neuropathy, shingles, postmastectomy pain and headaches - and is even sold as an over-the-counter cream - as capsaicin depletes the level of pain perception molecules in the bloodstream.

But the pepper component also dilates the blood vessels, thereby increasing blood circulation and reducing blood pressure.

And it may also help stave off cancer: American researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre discovered that capsaicin can kill off prostate cancer cells in the laboratory, although further human trials are needed.


Ginger is traditionally used to help digestion and reduce inflammation, as the root helps neutralise stomach acid.

Effective at reducing nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, ginger may also reduce cholesterol if eaten in high doses and could reduce blood clotting, according to the British Nutrition Foundation.

It may also help protect against bowel cancer. The main active component in ginger which gives it its distinct flavour, gingerol, has been shown in research to slow the growth of human tumours in mice. Scientists are now hoping to repeat that research in human trials.


Perhaps the best known ingredient in curry, garlic contains a chemical called allicin, which works to dilate the blood vessels and lessen the chance of blood clots, thereby reducing the risk of thrombosis.

Research has also linked garlic to a reduced risk of colorectal cancer, says Lisa Miles, senior nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation.

"The World Cancer Research Fund issued a comprehensive report on diets and cancer risk, and one of the conclusions was that garlic was linked to a decreased risk of colorectal cancer," she says.

"This is due to a compound present in garlic called allyl sulphide, which has an inhibitory effect on cancer cells and prevents them from replicating."

Both cooked and raw garlic have been found to have medicinal properties, according to the British Nutrition Foundation. However, to have a fully positive effect on one's health, around two to three cloves of garlic should be consumed daily to release the necessary levels of allicin in the body.

Takeaway nation

They might be healthier for you than you thought, but curries vary so much in their ingredients and recipes that you should watch what they contain, says Miles.

"Curries based on tomatoes [like a rogan ghosh] are much healthier than coconut milk or cream-based curries [like korma], because coconut milk and cream are higher in saturated fat," she says.

Whatever kind of curry you choose, be sure to go for lean meat over fatty cuts, Miles says, and to pick plain rice over fried rice.

Curry lovers can visit their local curry houses during National Curry Week, some of which will be staging special events. Visit www.nationaleatingoutweek.com for more details. And you can also make your own curry at home by following this recipe below, from National Curry Week.