Doctor’s Tip: Eat herbs and spices daily for optimal health
Herbs and spices are another one of Dr. Michael Greger’s daily dozen from his book “How Not to Die.” Previous columns have emphasized that fruits, vegetables and whole grains with intense color have the most abundant antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting micronutrients. The same is true of plant foods with intense flavor — herbs and spices, some of which are discussed below:
Turmeric has both intense color and intense flavor. It is used in Indian cooking and is what gives curry its yellow color. Turmeric is thought to be responsible for the low rate of cancer in India (which has a high rate of heart disease, thought to be due to ghee — processed butter). Turmeric was used to reverse an epidemic of DNA damage in Bangladesh caused by arsenic-contaminated wells. It has been shown to speed recovery after surgery; to treat a variety of cancers, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lung and eye diseases, inflammatory bowel disease and Alzheimer’s. Cooked turmeric has been shown to be best for repair of DNA damage and raw for inflammation. The average daily intake in India is around 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons, and Dr. Greger recommends 1/4 teaspoon of powdered turmeric, which would be equivalent to about 1/4 inch of grated turmeric root. Black pepper added to turmeric increases blood levels 2000-fold, which would be the equivalent of eating 29 cups of turmeric, which could cause rather than prevent DNA damage — so Dr. Greger does not recommend this. He also recommends against curcumin supplements, since it is just one of the healthful components of turmeric. People with gallbladder and oxalate kidney stones should avoid turmeric.
Amla (aka Indian gooseberry) has the most antioxidants per weight of any food on the planet. It has been used in Indian Ayurvedic traditional medicine to treat many conditions for centuries. This doesn’t necessarily mean it works, but over the past several years, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown that amla can do the following: lower cholesterol as well as some statins; lower blood sugar in diabetics as well as many medications; lower Lp(a) — a particularly harmful type of bad cholesterol that doesn’t respond to statins; decrease inflammation; decrease blood clotting; and treat dyspepsia (upset stomach).
Fenugreek seeds have anticancer properties in the lab and in human studies has been shown to improve muscle strength.
Cilantro has been shown to reduce inflammation in people with arthritis and to cut uric acid levels in people with gout.
Cayenne pepper has been shown to reduce pain, including headaches and abdominal pain caused by GI disorders.
Ginger helps migraine headaches, menstrual cramps and nausea including that caused by pregnancy.
Peppermint has strong antioxidant properties and can relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Once again, there can be too much of a good thing — high doses of peppermint cause rather than prevent problems.
Oregano and marjoram have been shown in the lab to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory activity. In the lab, oregano reduced chromosome damage in human blood cells by 70% after radioactive iodine treatment for overactive thyroid.
Rosemary and saffron have been shown to improve depression. Saffron is expensive, but Golden Saffron is a cost-effective brand found on the internet.
Cloves are loaded with antioxidants.
Cinnamon has lots of antioxidants, and cassia cinnamon lowers blood sugar. However, this type of cinnamon is no longer considered safe because it contains coumarin, which can cause liver toxicity. Dr. Greger only recommends Ceylon cinnamon, which is safe but doesn’t lower blood sugar.
Bottom line: Eat spices daily, both for flavor and for health. Use recommended doses of nonsupplement whole spices. Most of these herbs and spices can be found in grocery stores and can be purchased in bulk at Natural Grocers in Glenwood and Mana in Carbondale. Amla and Ceylon cinnamon can be found online. For more details about studies showing benefits of various spices, and about safe doses, search on Dr. Greger’s website nutritionfacts.org.
Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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