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Alert Number 215

Curry and Spice and All Things Nice (?!)

Date: January 21, 2007

Curcumin is the biologically active ingredient in the spice turmeric, a frequent ingredient of Indian cooking (and the yellow mustard you use on hot-dogs).

Turmeric has been used for centuries in India in “Ayurvedic medicine” as a poultice to help wound healing, as an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial/antifungal herbal remedy. I remember my grandmother using it liberally whenever any of us kids got diarrhea. More recently, it has been championed by Dr. Bharat Aggarwal of the M. D. Anderson cancer center. So much so that the FAQ on the MDA website mentions the recommended dose and the wholesaler from whom the curcumin should be bought. It is always an interesting exercise to follow the money, as this very recent article in Scientific American does.

Nothing in life is simple. And that is particularly true of natural herbal remedies. My concern with self-medication using "natural" supplements is not that they have no potency — that would not really harm you, even if it does make your wallet slimmer — instead I worry because many herbal products are quite potent, regulate multiple pathways in our bodies and can have unanticipated and unwanted side-effects. It will take a while before the dust settles, and we learn whether curcumin is a safe supplement to take to prevent/control cancer, or whether it down-regulates and inactivates a very important tumor suppressor gene called p53, and thereby actually helps the tumor cells survive and live to multiply another day. For now, I would suggest prudence is the better part of valor.

The Scientific American article below is a good read in any case.

Link: Spice Healer, by Gary Stix. Scientific American, February 2007.
If the page is inaccessible through the link provided, you may want to access a pdf version here: Spice Healer (pdf).

Be well,


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