Doctor’s Tip: Food as medicine — turmeric |

Doctor’s Tip: Food as medicine — turmeric

Turmeric is known for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and DNA- protective effects, and is sometimes called a “wonder spice.”

Plant-based foods with intense flavor (herbs and spices) or with intense color are known for their special health benefits. Turmeric is both intensely flavored and intensely colored. It is used in Indian cooking and gives curry its yellow color. Turmeric is thought to be the reason that India has one of the lowest rates of cancer in the world. (They have one of the highest rates of heart disease, though, thought to be due to ghee, the processed butter they use in cooking).

According to Dr. Greger’s book “How Not to Die” and his website, over 5,500 scientific studies have been published on turmeric over the past few years. Some of these have been lab and animal studies, which can’t be assumed to translate into what happens in humans. Following are the results of some human turmeric studies that were done according to the gold standard: blinded and placebo controlled. Unless otherwise specified, turmeric was given using the oral route.

• Turmeric was shown to help reverse pre-diabetes and diabetes.

• It was as effective in treating inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease) as the expensive drugs that are usually used, and without their potential side effects — some serious.

• Rural India has one of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s dementia in the world, and in small studies turmeric helped lessen and even reverse mild to moderate Alzheimer’s symptoms.

• Turmeric reversed a serious inflammatory eye disease called uveitis.

• It reversed a type of eye tumor.

• It was shown to heal colon cancer when applied directly on it via the oral or rectal route (enemas). It improved breast cancer when it was applied directly to cancer that had spread to the overlying skin.

• It improved endothelial function in arteries (endothelium is the organ system that lines our arteries).

• Turmeric improved kidney damage caused by the autoimmune disease lupus.

• Arsenic is a heavy metal that causes DNA damage, resulting in higher incidence of cancer; turmeric helps prevent and repair this DNA damage, thereby decreasing the risk of cancer.

• It treats, and in some cases even reverses, rheumatoid arthritis.

• It lessens joint pain in degenerative (osteo) arthritis.

• Turmeric helps prevent and reverse DNA damage associated with aging, radiation and smoking.

• It shortens recovery from surgery.

Turmeric versus curcumin: Western medicine is always trying to find the silver bullet in foods with medicinal properties, in order to put it in capsules or pills and sell it. Curcumin is thought to be the active ingredient in turmeric, but it turns out that there are several additional ingredients in turmeric that have medicinal benefits. Therefore, it is important to use whole turmeric and not curcumin supplements. Cooked turmeric (in curry or hot tea) is best for prevention and repair of DNA damage; raw turmeric is best for inflammation.

If some turmeric is good for you, is a lot even better? Dr. Greger notes that in India, the amount of turmeric typically consumed daily in curry is 1/4 to 1 teaspoon — the dose used in most of the aforementioned studies — and that’s the dose he recommends. Turmeric root is available at Natural Grocers, and if you want to grate your own, 1/4 of an inch is approximately equivalent to 1/4 of a teaspoon of turmeric powder. Both forms are available at Natural Grocers.

Are there people who should avoid turmeric? The oxalates in turmeric can cause kidney stones, so people with a history of stones should avoid it. Turmeric causes the gallbladder to contract, so people with gallstones should use it cautiously.

A sprinkle of black pepper on turmeric decreases the metabolism by the liver, resulting in blood levels 2,000 times higher than turmeric without pepper. The safety of such high levels is questionable, and there have been reports of liver damage with high blood levels of turmeric. Furthermore, very high levels of antioxidants can cause instead of prevent oxidation. The same concerns exists with supplements that combine turmeric with other herbs that work synergistically with it, which perhaps is why blinded, placebo-controlled human studies on such supplements have failed to show benefit.

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

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