Turmeric’s Many Talents

Turmeric concoction with chickpeas

Turmeric, the yellow spice that gives curry its bright color and peppery flavor, has been revered in India and China for thousands of years for its wide range of medicinal properties.

It’s nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatory and has shown great promise in many studies as an anti-cancer agent—reducing tumor growth and metastases, helping stimulate cancer cells to commit suicide and enhancing the effectiveness of chemotherapy.  (Read “The Role of Curcumin in Cancer Therapy,” published in 2007 in Current Problems in Cancer, for a review of the studies.)

The theory is that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, interferes with NF-kappa B cells, considered the black knight of cancer because they protect cancer cells against the body’s natural defense mechanisms.

If you’re planning on adding turmeric to your diet, however, you can’t just rely on curry powder, with its relatively little turmeric, or pop a few turmeric tablets. If taken alone, turmeric is poorly absorbed by the gut. To cross the intestinal barrier, turmeric must be combined with black pepper (which increases its effectiveness somewhere between 1 to 2000 times) and olive oil. Heating it also increases its bio-availability.

The right dose? Nobody really knows. If you’re fighting active cancer, ask your doctor what s/he would do if s/he were you, based on the evidence thus far and the dosages used in studies. Otherwise, a teaspoon a day might even be better than the ole apple trick.

Here’s how to make your daily dose more palatable:

Turmeric Concoction

1  T turmeric

1 T ground cumin

1/2 T ground black pepper

salt to taste

Mix well. Add to mustard and heat it up. Mix with eggs or chickpeas. Add tomatoes, onions, cilantro or dill if  desired.

Warning: At very high dosages, turmeric can cause diarrhea.

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