Doctor’s Tip: Herbs and spices and amazing turmeric
In the next several columns, I will be discussing the rest of Dr. Michael Greger’s daily dozen from his book “How Not to Die.” So far, I have written about nuts/seeds, cruciferous vegetables and beans, with a separate column on soy.
Herbs are defined as any leafy plants without a woody stem, often used as household remedies or as flavoring. Spices are defined as aromatic and pungent vegetables used to flavor foods or beverages. Just as vegetables with intense colors (e.g. berries, greens, red onions, red cabbage) have more health-promoting antioxidants, so do intensely flavorful herbs and spices. Next week I will write about other herbs and spices, but today the focus will be on turmeric, a member of the ginger family, which is both colorful (deep yellow) and flavorful.
Turmeric is what makes curry yellow. The overall cancer rate in India is much lower than in countries on a Western diet, and this is thought to be due to the daily turmeric Indians consume in curry (the heart disease rate is higher due to ghee, which is clarified butter). According to Dr. Greger (nutritionfacts.org), here are some of the benefits of turmeric, based on more than 50 clinical trials since 2000:
• It prevents and repairs DNA damage that is constantly occurring in some of the billions of cells in our body.
• It has been shown to play a role in preventing and treating multiple myeloma and pancreatic cancer. Topical application has been shown to treat early stage cancer of the bladder, mouth, cervix, skin and colon (the latter by enema or ingestion).
• Its anti-inflammatory effect has been shown to improve rheumatoid and osteoarthritis symptoms as well as ibuprofen does, without the side effects or cost.
• It has been shown to treat other inflammatory conditions such as lupus and inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis, regional enteritis).
• In a small but impressive study, a teaspoon of turmeric a day showed reversal of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s (India reportedly has the lowest rate of Alzheimer’s in the world).
• Turmeric has been shown to help prevent prediabetes from advancing to diabetes, and is useful in treating diabetes.
• It has been shown to improve asthma.
If a pharmaceutical company could come up with a pill like this, it would make billions of dollars. Supplement companies sell one of the components of turmeric, called curcumin. However, as always, it’s a mistake to isolate an individual component of a healthy food, thinking that is the “magic bullet.” Curcumin has not been shown to have all the benefits that the whole food turmeric does.
You can buy turmeric root at Asian food markets and locally at Vitamin Cottage. A quarter of an inch of grated, fresh root is about the equivalent of one-fourth teaspoon of ground turmeric available in bulk at Vitamin Cottage. People in India eat about this much every day as curry, although if you’re worried about Alzheimer’s, one whole teaspoon a day would be better. Adding a pinch of black pepper increases the bioavailability by 2,000 percent, and black pepper is often an ingredient in curry.
Cooked turmeric offers better DNA protection, while raw has greater anti-inflammatory effects. I put three-fourths teaspoon of ground turmeric in a small amount of juice to get the benefits of raw turmeric, and one-fourth teaspoon in my herbal tea in the morning to get the benefits of cooked.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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