Health - The yellow wonder
by Naini Setalvad
We in India have long deified the tulsi. Now, however, the western world is also talking about a “holy powder”: none other than our humble turmeric powder, more commonly called haldi.
Turmeric is a root and a member of the ginger family, resembling it in shape and consistency. It is best known in its yellow powdered form, and is commonly used as a spice in India.
In fact, at one stage, this yellow spice was only associated with Indian foods. Now, it has managed to wiggle its way into laboratories, which has led to the discovery that curcumin has an astonishing array of health benefits. Today, the world is touting this marigold-coloured powder as an antioxidant, antibiotic, antiviral, anti-Alzheimer, and anti-cancer remedy.
At the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, patients are encouraged to have turmeric every day. GNC, a famous American nutritional supplement brand, sells pure turmeric in capsule form to be had daily, and calls it a powerful ayurvedic antioxidant. We, in India, are lucky. Turmeric is a regular part of our daily diet. In Hindu homes, turmeric is an important and auspicious part of rituals and prayers. It is sprinkled on idols as a form of worship, and used to anoint the forehead as a part of the ritual.
No Indian wedding is complete without the haldi ceremony, which consists of applying turmeric paste on the bride as well as the groom to enhance their glow for the big day. Many facial creams boast of turmeric as an ingredient to add lustre and glow to the skin. Turmeric is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine for its beautifying properties and is well renowned as nature’s internal cosmetic. In fact, its colour is so strong that in native Asian countries, including India, it is used as a dye. Even a tiny speck of turmeric leaves behind a stain that is tough to remove. Both the Indian and the Chinese systems of medicine have recognised the beneficial properties of turmeric for thousands of years. If you have a cold or a sore throat, grandmothers always recommended gargling – or even drinking warm water with a pinch of turmeric powder added. A teaspoon of honey mixed with turmeric soothes a sore throat. Turmeric in milk prevents phlegm. When consumed daily, it works as an antibiotic, boosting your immunity and keeping various diseases at bay. During Indian winters, fresh sliced turmeric, marinated in lemon and rock salt is served in many homes. Turmeric, mixed with Indian gooseberry (amla), is a popularly known cure for elevated sugar level. For external uses, turmeric is applied immediately on burns and cuts. A warm paste of turmeric can soothe a swelling on any part of the body, or even a sprain.
There was an outcry a few years ago when the western world wanted to put a patent on turmeric. Research has documented that curcumin, the pigment that gives turmeric its yellow-orange colour, is responsible for its medicinal properties. A leading researcher said that when curcumin enters the cell, it ‘disciplines’ it. This improves the cell’s resistance to infections, especially cancer. Studies have further documented that in India, cancers of the colon, breast, prostate and lung are ten times lower than in the US mainly due to the addition of turmeric in the daily diet.
Numerous studies have looked into this potential cancer fighting property of curcumin with promising results. For instance, curcumin has been found to:
• Inhibit the proliferation of tumour cells
• Inhibit the transformation of cells from normal to tumour
• Help the body destroy mutated cancer cells so they cannot spread throughout your body
• Decrease inflammation
• Enhance liver function
• Inhibit the synthesis of a protein thought to be instrumental in tumour formation
• Prevent the development of additional blood supply necessary for cancer cell growth
According to researchers from the University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center, curcumin blocks a key biological pathway needed for development of melanoma and other cancers.
In India, the rate of Alzheimer’s is far lower than anywhere else in the world due to the regular consumption of turmeric. It has also been proven that turmeric could lend a hand in curing the following diseases:
• Cystic fibrosis
• Type 2 diabetes
• Crohn’s disease
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Muscular degeneration
• Inflammatory bowel disease
How to select turmeric?
Fresh turmeric root should resemble ginger, smaller than ginger but orange in colour. Turmeric powder is bright yellow, and has a slightly spicy taste when unadulterated. A teaspoonful of turmeric is indeed a powerhouse of goodness in every form.
Naini Setalvad is a nutritionist specialising in lifestyle and immunity disorders. Her foundation, Health For You, throws light on healthy food habits.
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