The goodness of curry

I am an ardent believer and promoter of natural and nutritional therapies over drug-based therapies for most of the health problems that we may face.

However, most natural and nutritional therapies have not been scientifically proven to be effective as claimed, even though there are enough experience and testimonials for us to believe and continue using these therapies.

In this scientific age, it becomes incumbent upon us to validate these claims with scientific studies. So I am happy to share with you today, some of the studies that prove the effectiveness of natural and nutritional therapies.

Although most of these studies are small, and therefore, do not have the same level of validity or confidence as the large-scale drug studies - often done concurrently in many research centres worldwide, they are still important because we now have some objective proof of the validity of the observations and experience of our forefathers who have passed on their knowledge to us.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that large-scale studies will be done on these natural and nutritional therapies, because such studies will cost millions of dollars; and no company is willing to spend on something they cannot patent and reap profits from thereafter.

Our only hope is if government institutions and universities come forward and take up the challenge.

Some of the studies have only been done on animals, but the positive results tell us that human studies should be done, and hopefully, give equally positive results too.

Spicing up RA treatment

Today, I shall start with the goodness of curcumin, the supernutrient found in the common spice turmeric.

Studies have shown that curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory activity. Since inflammation is also known to be the underlying cause for many chronic degenerative diseases (Alzheimer's, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers), scientists began to look into the effect of curcumin on these diseases.

In a study involving 45 patients with active rheumatoid arthritis (RA), patients given curcumin (500mg) showed significantly better improvement compared to patients given a common anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic drug, diclofenac sodium (50mg).

More importantly, curcumin treatment was found to be safe and did not cause any adverse effect, whereas the drug, like all drugs, has a long-list of known side effects.

This paper, published as A Randomized, Pilot Study to Assess the Efficacy and Safety of Curcumin in Patients with Active Rheumatoid Arthritis in the journal Phytotherapy Research on Mac 9, provides evidence for the safety and superiority of curcumin over drug treatment in patients with active RA.

The researchers recommend that more studies be done to assess the effectiveness of curcumin in the treatment of RA and other arthritic conditions.

Prior to this study, there were many other studies that showed the effectiveness of curcumin used with drugs in mitigating the pain and other symptoms (eg swelling, stiffness, immobility) associated with RA and other forms of arthritis; but none directly compared curcumin with a drug head-on.

In fact, in this study, curcumin alone was better than the drug with curcumin.

Some doctors may argue that the drug dose used here was low (50mg), and that they usually prescribe the 100mg (long-acting) dose.

Well, the curcumin dose used here was also low, because other studies have used doses up to 2,000mg per day.

It has been determined that even 8,000mg per day is safe! The average curry-lover gets about 100mg per day in his diet.

Healing our cells

The level of homocysteine in the blood is an independent risk indicator of heart disease.

Patients with high homocysteine levels have been found to have endothelial cells that do not function properly.

Endothelial cells line the inside of our blood vessels. They release nitric oxide, which dilate the vessels, and other chemicals, which prevent blood from clotting and plaques from forming.

Curcumin has been found to prevent this dysfunction, and therefore, is useful in the treatment of patients with high homocysteine levels.

Another independent marker of the risk for heart disease is the level of C-reactive protein (CRP).

CRP is a protein that the body produces in response to inflammation, and has been shown to damage endothelial cells. This results in increased vascular disease and blood clotting.

Curcumin treatment has been shown to completely inhibit the effect of CRP on these endothelial cells.

Studies on rabbits have also shown that curcumin treatment resulted in a significant decrease in oxidized LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and early atherosclerotic lesions in rabbits fed high fat and high cholesterol diets.

Although the studies quoted above are on animals, the results are encouraging, especially when the current drug therapies for cancer are so damaging by themselves.

Thus far, curcumin has been found to kill or inhibit the growth and spread of many types of cancer cells, including human head and neck squamous cancer cells, oral cancer cells, liver cancer cells, lung cancer cells, melanoma cells, breast cancer cells and colon cancer cells.

Curcumin also inhibits pre-cancerous polyps in the colon, and improved the sensitivity of chemotherapy in some cases.

Other health effects

Research at the Medical Univer-sity Graz in Austria showed that curcumin delays liver damage that can eventually lead to cirrhosis.

Kansas State University research found that adding turmeric, and some other spices too, can reduce the levels of heterocyclic amines - carcinogenic compounds that are formed when meats are barbecued, boiled or fried - by up to 40%.

The high consumption of turmeric by Indians is suspected to be the reason why the rate of Alzheimer's disease in India is less than a quarter that of the US. A study showed that curcumin destroys the amyloid plaques.

An overview published in the reputable publication Advanced Experimental Medical Biology (2007) stated that: "Curcumin has been shown to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities, and thus, has potential against various malignant diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, and other chronic illnesses."

Five years later, more evidence has accumulated attesting to the goodness of this nutrient commonly available in our diet.

In the meantime, we can continue to benefit from its goodness as told to us by our forefathers. Some of the "home" uses of turmeric/curcumin are as:

  • A natural antiseptic, useful for disinfecting wounds and burns.
  • A natural painkiller.
  • An aid in weight loss.
  • A remedy for depression.
  • A natural remedy for arthritis and rheumatism.
  • An aid for wound healing.
  • A natural treatment for psoriasis and other inflammatory skin diseases.

How to take it

If you are healthy, and would like to benefit from the goodness of turmeric/curcumin, then you should make sure turmeric is part of your daily diet.

If you are a curry lover, that is not a problem. You can also sprinkle turmeric on many other dishes to add to the flavour.

If you have any of the health problems listed above that have been shown to benefit from curcumin, then you will need turmeric or curcumin supplements.

Turmeric supplements contain less than 10% of curcumin, but being a whole food, it contains other nutrients that may work in synergy with curcumin.

Turmeric also contains vitamins B6 and B3, folic acid, potassium, iron, manganese, fibre, and essential omega-3 fatty acids.

In our diet, spices are rarely taken just by themselves. They are usually taken with other foods, which may contain other spices as well.

For example, Indian cuisine commonly uses turmeric and pepper together.

A recent study found that the absorption of turmeric and curcumin is enhanced by piperine, a constituent of black pepper.

So, while chefs combine the two spices for better taste, we also get better health benefits.

Without piperine, the absorption of turmeric/curcumin is poor. So, even if you take the supplement form, you should look for supplements that also contain piperine or black pepper.

If this combination is not available, then you should take the supplement together with a little bit of black pepper.

From the research available, you will need at least 500mg of curcumin supplement per day to reduce any of the existing problems (arthritis, high homocysteine, high CRP, etc) as listed above.

If the results are not satisfactory after about three months of consumption, you can increase the dose without any worry of side effects.

I hope this article gives encouragement to those who have faith in natural remedies that it is just a matter of time before scientific research will unveil the goodness of the remedies already available in nature all this while, which were ignored because we were too busy looking for drugs to solve our health problems.

I hope to share the proven health benefits of other natural and nutritional therapies in future.

Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong. For further information, e-mail The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.