Indian Spices noted for medicinal values
Johns Hopkins Doc Pursues Health Benefits of Curcumin
Dr. Saraswati Sukumar
- United States
A spice commonly used in Indian foods could also double as a powerful weapon to fight against cancer, diabetes, and inflammation. If recent studies on the spice’s effect to continue producing promising results are any indication, Dr. Saraswati Sukumar of Johns Hopkins University hopes curcumin, which gives turmeric its yellow color, will help people fight off or prevent diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
In an interview with India-West, Sukumar explained how she and a colleague, Dr. Anirban Maitra, are paying close attention to promising clinical trials of curcumin.
Curcumin is the extract of turmeric and may soon be used in pill form. The spice is commonly integrated into many Indian dishes. Sukumar will be giving a presentation Jan. 24 in West Palm Beach, Florida, about the positive health benefits of curcumin. While more clinical trials are still needed to further understand how the common spice is beneficial to the human body, Sukumar believes a curcumin pill currently in experimental format could have a dramatic impact in fighting certain diet-induced diseases that are becoming more commonplace.
“The talk I am going to be giving in Palm Beach, Florida, really covers the field to let people know what’s involved with this, what does curcumin do, what are the positive effects, so on and so forth,” Sukumar told India-West in a telephone interview earlier this week.
In addition to being a strong weapon against diabetes and inflammation, steady consumption of curcumin can also counteract skin damage that result from cancer-based radiation treatment.
“It has very strong anti-inflammatory activity,” Sukumar told India-West of curcumin’s health benefits. “Is that the only activity that’s really causing it to be this effective? We don’t think so. We think it has effects on multiple other pathways that are just beginning to be understood.”
With an estimated 26 million people diagnosed with diabetes, Sukumar said curcumin can also be a great benefit in fighting the metabolic disease.
Sukumar explained how an experiment where mice with obesity-induced diabetes were given doses of curcumin and experienced glucose levels returning to near normal levels within 20 days, thanks to an increased production of “good fat” hormones.
When a follow-up clinical trial was performed in a double-blind study with pre-diabetic patients, Sukumar cited that none of the 119 subjects who were given curcumin developed the disease. However, 19 out 116 pre-diabetic patients in that same trial who were given a placebo did develop the disease.
“It has an effect, indirectly, on the fat content as well as … diabetes,” the Indian American researcher told India-West, adding that the clinical trial tested patients over a nine-month period, and another follow-up study with more time passed would be needed to further validate the promising results.
Both Sukumar and Maitra hope to eventually have a water-soluble curcumin pill available on the market sometime soon. However, early clinical trials of the experimental pill have not yet yielded the desired results. In current trials, Sukumar pointed out several grams of curcumin need to be consumed in order to be effective. Whether small doses of the spices can be consumed in pill format in order to have the desired effect on the body remains to be seen.
Nevertheless, Sukumar expressed her excitement about further discovering the health benefits of turmeric and curcumin.
“I really feel extremely positive about setting out, spending energy, and telling the world about what curcumin can do. And it’s just a spice off your rack,” Sukumar said.
She added that the spice can still be used in its natural state, similar to how it is mixed into many Indian food dishes.
To incorporate curcumin into one’s lifestyle, Sukumar simply suggests obtaining large portions of turmeric.
“Get a bag of turmeric and use it lavishly in your food,” Sukumar told India-West. “It adds some flavor but it’s not going to hurt you.”
She also suggested adding turmeric to the grilling of foods such as garlic, mushrooms, and onions. It is also best combined with warm oil.
(Courtesy: India West)