Turmeric is an ancient Indian spice that has been long known for its healing properties and has been used for thousands of years as both a medicine and a culinary spice. In addition to being used to treat such various conditions as arthritis, eczema and endometriosis, turmeric seems to have wide ranging benefits throughout the entire body, including boosting the immune system, improving heart health, helping with liver and gall-bladder function, and cleansing the blood. It is currently being studied as a possible cancer preventative as well. It is an antioxidant, and is know to have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Turmeric has been stocked on the shelves of health food stores in the Western world for years now, but it wasn’t until recently that it started gaining popularity in wider circles. A recent article in Time.com by Dr. Scott Haig, an Orthopedic Surgeon practicing in New York state, points to this humble herb’s growing acceptance. Dr. Haig cites one patient’s remarkable success with managing his arthritic pain with just the use of turmeric. He tells an honest story of his awakening to the herb's potential as he follows this patient over many years and through two surgeries, ultimately deciding to try using the herb himself due to the remarkable healing response he observed in his patient.
Turmeric has been catching my eye recently as I have been searching far and wide for natural ways to treat arthritis ever since my father’s diagnosis with what seems to be a mixture of rheumatoid and osteo-arthritis. My research so far seems to indicate that turmeric does have real potential for treating arthritic pain, likely due to it’s anti-inflammatory action in the body.
So, following my recommendation, my father recently began taking some natural anti-inflammatory supplements. He also decided to go the standard pharmaceutical route as well. His doctor recommended he try Naproxen, a common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). With a quick assessment of his blood pressure (it was in the normal range) she said she thought this drug should be safe for him. What his doctor failed to mention is that the medication has a number of wide-ranging side effects, including such severe ones as heart attack and stroke. My father is 65 years old. His father died of a stroke at age 63.
After five days on the Naproxen, right after taking his morning dose, my father had to lie down because he suddenly became light-headed and his heart started racing. He felt clammy and needed to take deep breaths to get enough oxygen. Over the next couple of hours, these symptoms subsided, but I can tell you that in describing the experience to me, he stated that thoughts about whether these might be the last breaths he would ever be taking went through his mind. My father is a very matter-of-fact person. This was not a dramatization. Needless to say, he stopped taking the medication, and instead re-focused again on the natural anti-inflammatory recommendations I had made. I’d been encouraging him to get any pro-inflammatory omega-6 oils out of his diet, and to increase his intake of fish oil, which is a great source of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 oil. I also encouraged him to try taking herbs like ginger, turmeric, and other combination anti-inflammatory herbal remedies.
I wish my father’s doctor had been a little more open-minded to the recent research pointing to the powerful anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric, or at least mentioned that there were other, safer ways to treat arthritic pain. I wish she’d read Dr. Haig’s article, and given it serious consideration.
I am of course extremely grateful that my father’s experience was not more serious than it was, but still, it makes one stop to think. If heart attack or stroke (i.e. potential death) is a possible outcome of taking a standard pharmaceutical medication, why would any doctor ever recommend it? I know that pain can be a very difficult thing to live with, and I understand the doctor’s need to find something for her patient that would alleviate his symptoms, but at the same time, I think we do need to take an honest look at how these medications can impact our loved ones, and then assess the alternatives.
I, for one, am very excited about the potential for turmeric to reduce arthritic pain. And I can’t wait to see how my father responds. If you are suffering from similar issues, or are experiencing other symptoms linked to inflammation, read up on turmeric, check out the recent article published in Time.com (click here to read it), and then come in to the Village Green to talk to one of the nutrition consultants about whether or not turmeric might be a good choice for you. You can get advice on appropriate and therapeutic dosing, and learn about the most effective supplements to try.
Or, if you’d like to work towards increasing this herb in your daily diet, simply start to explore using it as a spice in your food, just as the Indians do. If you are unfamiliar with how to use turmeric, try this recipe given to me by an Indian friend, Sri Narayan.
Indian Cabbage with Peas
½ green cabbage
1 ¼ cups frozen peas
3 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¾ teaspoon salt
Dash or two of cinnamon
Dash or two of ground clove
Shred the cabbage. Heat the oil and when hot, put in the cumin seeds and bay leaves. As soon as the bay leaves begin to take on color – this just takes a few seconds – put in the cabbage and peas and stir them for 30 seconds. Then add the turmeric and cayenne. Stir to mix. Cover, turn heat to low, and cook for 5 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender. Add the salt. Stir to mix. Cover and cook on low heat another 2-3 minutes. Remove the cover and sprinkle cinnamon and clove on top. Remove the bay leaves before serving.