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A super spice for all reasons

health-and-fitness Updated: Mar 28, 2010 00:14 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
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Turmeric, an Indian kitchen staple popularly known as the ‘curry spice’ in the west, has so many medicinal properties that it is a wonder it’s still stocked at grocery stores and not pharmacies.

Apart from being a home remedy for sprains, swellings and wounds, turmeric has been used as a traditional Indian medicine to treat stomach ailments and infections for centuries. The west, however, validates its virtues with a vengeance now. It confirms that its formidable array of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties make it effective against cancers, infections and inflammatory disorders such as asthma, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Earlier this week, Austrian scientists reported that turmeric protects against liver damage that eventually causes cirrhosis. Curcumin, the active ingredient that also gives turmeric its characteristic yellow colour, reduces inflammation that causes liver cell damage, blockage and scarring in eight short weeks, reported Gut, a British medical journal publication.

The team found that a curcumin diet for four to eight weeks reduces bile duct blockage and curbs liver cell damage and scarring by interfering with chemical signalling pathways involved in inflammation.

In 2007, US researchers reported curcumin helps stimulate the immune system cells in Alzheimer’s disease, slowing the progression of the degenerative disease. Later that year, Clinical Cancer Research reported that curcumin effectively blocked the activity of a gastrointestinal hormone implicated in the development of colorectal cancer. Since then, turmeric has been proven to prevent rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis that leads to bone loss. Its anti-inflammatory properties were not only found to relieve the aches and pains of arthritis, but also prevent it, said the study in, Arthritis and Rheumatism, the American College of Rheumatology journal.

International studies have also shown it suppresses cancer tumours and that people who eat lots of turmeric are less prone to the disease even though curcumin loses its anti-cancer attributes quickly after being ingested. The curry spice has also successfully killed and stopped the growth of melanoma skin cancer cells in laboratory tests.

There’s more. Curcumin — even the kind found in commercially available turmeric dietary supplements — has been found to completely inhibit the onset of rheumatoid arthritis that causes joint inflammation and pain. With most people in India consuming 2-3 gm of turmeric a day (200-300 milligrams of curcumin), turmeric should be promoted as the spice of choice by the union health ministry.

Unfortunately, one important aspect of its properties needs more research. Turmeric leaves behind a stain that is still a challenge to all cleaning techniques known to humans.