Sunday, July 7, 2013

Herbal Medicine - Tumeric, the Inflammation Agent Orange

Having traveled to India after graduating with my Masters degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and becoming a newly licensed acupuncturist in Boston, I know enough about Indian food to get me in trouble. I can still smell the fragrant dishes I ate while I was there and remember being amazed at the different textures and colors that were present in many of the dishes. One of the more unique colors in Indian cuisine is orange and a key ingredient of these dishes is the spice turmeric. But did you know that it is an important herb in Chinese herbal medicine as well? Recent press on the use of turmeric has focused on its anti-inflammatory properties. Let's take a closer look at this common kitchen spice.

Turmeric is called Jiang Huang in Chinese herbal medicine. It is bitter, warming and has an acrid nature to it. Bitter and acrid substances are very effective Qi and Blood movers. When Qi or Blood becomes stagnant, pain arises, hence the anti-inflammatory nature of turmeric root. It travels most often to the Stomach, Spleen, and Liver organs. The Stomach and Spleen are the organs most involved in digestion of food which explains turmeric's use as a treatment for ulcerative colitis and indigestion. The Liver is involved in the free flow of Qi through the body and when boosted by the actions of turmeric, could work more effectively at relieving the stagnation that causes pain.

Western scientific research focuses on the active ingredient of turmeric, curcumin, a powerful anti-oxidant which has been shown to lower levels of inflammatory enzymes and inhibit platelet aggregation in the body. It is a popular supplement added to joint health remedies and anti-oxidant supplements. Besides joint health, turmeric can treat systemic inflammation found in inflammatory bowel disease. Research on the ability of the herb to maintain remission in patients with ulcerative colitis that were also taking conventional medications showed that only 5% of the patients taking curcumin relapsed versus 21% in the placebo group suggesting it may be an effective supplement for the treatment of this condition. Early research using test tube and animal experiments has shown that curcumin may even be effective in preventing or treating different types of cancers. As always it is important to discuss any herbal supplement with your doctor before taking it as some interactions can occur. In particular, due to curcumin's platelet inhibiting properties, it may be unsafe for patients taking blood thinning medication.

Turmeric is considered food safe and has been utilized in cuisine around the world for thousands of years. It is a very tasty spice and is great in eggs, soups, stews, and curries. Of course, while you enjoy your next Indian curry dish, it is also nice to know that you might be easing your pain a little bit as well.

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