Doctor’s Tip: Turmeric, the wonder spice
This is the third in a series of columns about how natural herbs and spices — often used in folk medicine — are finally being studied to see if they really work. India has one of the lowest rates of cancer in the world, and it’s thought that turmeric, which makes curry yellow, is the reason. Inflammation and oxidation contribute to several diseases, including cancer. We know that plants with intense flavor (e.g. herbs and spices) and color have an abundance of anti-oxidants, and many of these plants also have anti-inflammatory effects. Turmeric has both intense color and intense flavor.
Current technology allows scientists to detect DNA damage. Turmeric has been shown in the lab to prevent and reverse DNA damage. It also prevents and reverses DNA damage in living humans, as in the following two studies: (1) A study of radiology technicians, who are exposed to DNA-damaging radiation, have less damage if they take daily turmeric. (2) Smoking causes DNA damage, which is prevented if smokers take daily turmeric. Prevention and repair of DNA damage is no doubt one of the reasons turmeric helps prevent cancer.
Multiple studies have been done on turmeric since the turn of the century, as outlined in Dr. Greger’s well-referenced book “How Not to Die” and his website nutritionfacts.org. Here are some of the conditions that turmeric has been shown to help:
• Turmeric has been shown in the lab to kill many kinds of cancer cells, including colon, breast, brain, lung, pancreas and multiple myeloma (a blood cancer), although that doesn’t necessarily mean it reverses cancer in living human beings.
• Turmeric blocks pre-cancerous mutations in lungs of smokers, and if lung cancer is already present turmeric helps prevent it from growing and spreading.
• Turmeric taken orally gets rid of pre-cancerous cell clusters in the colon. In patients who already have advanced colon cancer, turmeric has been shown in some cases to stop the growth of chemotherapy and radiation-resistant tumors.
• When applied directly to cancer, turmeric reverses cancer of the mouth, stomach, colon, bladder, cervix, skin, vulva and breast (breast cancer unresponsive to chemo and radiation that has extended through the skin).
• Arsenic is a carcinogenic heavy metal, thought to cause cancer by creating free radical (i.e. oxidation). Turmeric helps prevent this DNA damage in people exposed to arsenic and also chelates (binds to) arsenic.
• In India, turmeric drops are used to treat conjunctivitis (pink eye). It is as effective as steroids against a more serious eye inflammation called uveitis but without the side effects of steroids. It’s even effective in treating the most severe type of eye inflammation called orbital pseudotumor.
• Insulin resistance, where muscles and organs are unable to use insulin like they should, leads to pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Turmeric improves insulin sensitivity, preventing pre-diabetes from progressing to diabetes. It also improves blood sugar and A1C levels in people who already have type 2 diabetes.
• People given daily turmeric prior to and following surgery have less postoperative pain and fatigue.
• A delicate organ system called the endothelium lines our arteries. Endothelial dysfunction, caused by oxidation and inflammation, contributes to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, eventually leading to heart attacks and stroke. Turmeric helps endothelial dysfunction. (Interestingly, India has a high rate of heart disease in spite of turmeric in their diet — due to processed butter called ghee used in Indian cooking).
• Turmeric has been shown to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and to improve symptoms in people who already have it (Alzheimer’s is probably an inflammatory and vascular disease).
• It can reverse rheumatoid arthritis and treat symptoms of degenerative arthritis.
• It has been shown to be effective against ulcerative colitis — an inflammatory condition.
• Turmeric can heal kidney damage in people with Lupus — an autoimmune/inflammatory condition.
Some of the studies on turmeric have been done on a component of turmeric, called curcumin. Supplement and pharmaceutical companies are always trying to find the “silver bullet” in natural foods, so they can patent and sell it. However, for many conditions curcumin is less effective than turmeric, which has many additional healthful micronutrients. So as is always the case, it’s best to use the whole food — in this case turmeric.
The second half of Dr. Greger’s book is about what we should be eating every day and why, and he has his daily dozen, one of which is herbs and spices. He recommends 1/4 teaspoon of ground turmeric a day, which is about the daily amount in the diet of most people in India. Powdered turmeric can be purchased in bulk at Vitamin Cottage, and 1/4 teaspoon is equivalent to about 1/4 inches of grated turmeric root. You can stir the power or grated root into a small amount of kombucha or juice and chug it down, or put it on something like your cereal. The study on Alzheimer’s used a whole teaspoon, so some people take that dose daily. More than that may cause instead of prevent damage. Adding black pepper to turmeric increases the blood level by 2,000 percent, and Dr. Greger doesn’t recommend doing that. Cooked turmeric is best for DNA repair, and raw for inflammation. To get both effects, put half of your daily turmeric in your tea in the morning and eat the other half raw.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and other medical issues, and to help people with hospital or other medical bills they don’t understand or think are too high. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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