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Turmeric and Culinary Medicine

Posted Dec 14 2008 9:48pm

Filled with flavor, anti-inflammatories and in every yellow curry in the book, turmeric is not just for mustard coloring any more.

In fact, culinary medicine–the art of cooking blended with the science of medicine– is one of the great bargains of our time. That’s essential in these times where value seems gone and security is scarce. And it’s as easy as learning a little about cooking, about what’s in your food, and what it can do for you. See my ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine for more.

For example, in a recent treatment study, the spice turmeric had effects on cytokine levels and on enzymes in some pancreatic cancer patients. Not the same as a remission, but on the way.

Turmeric was safe and there were no side effects. One patient had a brief remission. Curcumin–the active ingredient inside–has promise.  But curcumin is not well absorbed–it has poor bioavailability. The subjects took 8 grams per day for 18 months.

Bioavailability just means “body-ready”.  The body has to absorb the curcumin for it to attack cancer cells. It’s a term I apply to food…not just pharmacology.

I wonder if they know what so many Indians do—add black pepper to their curry.  Not just because it tastes good.  But it also happens to improve the body-readiness of curcumin.  Why? It’s the piperine in black pepper. Piperine gives black and white pepper pep; stimulates pancreatic digestive enzymes; and increases absorption, perhaps as a result of its effect on the ultrastructure of intestinal brush border.

By the way, turmeric is a rhizome (an above-ground root), like ginger.  And it looks like ginger: fingers of bright yellow goodness grated into Indian dishes, or dried into a powder.

The next scientific step is a randomized, controlled trial of not just safety, but real effectiveness. And though these patients took curcumin in a pill, you can get it every day in the spice turmeric, and in every yellow curry, and some mustards (it’s used for coloring).

By the way, curcumin is best known for its potential to reduce inflammation and the risk of Alzheimer’s: India consumes most of the world’s turmeric and has one of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s.

Read the entrance criteria and the full abstract. And try my ChefMD  Coconut Milk Curried Shrimp with Turmeric with free video, nutrition data and extra value!

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