September 8, 2008

Painkiller on Your Kitchen Shelf

By Rajen M.

THE powerful painkiller that Mother Nature produces may be sitting in your kitchen cabinet. In fact, you probably ate it in the last 24 hours as part of your meal.

It should come as no surprise that it is called "living gold" or "Mother nature's gold". It is more commonly called Indian saffron, haridra or jiang huang.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) consists of more than 100 species and over 30 varieties of a cylindrical tuber (rhizome) with orange- coloured flesh. It is related to ginger.

The botanical name is Zingiber officinale and is also commonly known as Curcuma domestica. It is sometime called "Chinese ginger".

The intensity of its yellow-orange colour and fragrant, earthy aroma depends on the plant's maturity at harvest, the more mature the better.

The Ancient Indian culture prizes turmeric more - far more - than just "a spice".

Sure, it has a distinctive flavour and a gorgeous yellow colouring. Ancient Indian culture values it for its ability to attract good luck, robust, vital health and beauty.

Ayuvedic medicine long ago knew and used this spice for its most amazing anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving powers.

In India, turmeric sits on every kitchen shelf of every household, according to Vasant Lad, an Indian trained practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine, in the United States.

"It is our daily spice. But there's more than seasoning behind this reasoning!"

Turmeric is a powerful, anti-inflammatory agent, useful for any disorder or condition that is accompanied by inflammation, as the ancient Hindi physicians recognised.

Taken orally, turmeric inhibits the response of the body to inflammatory agents both directly and indirectly, by stimulating production of natural corticosteroids from the adrenal glands, "sensitising" cortisone receptor sites on cells, and preventing the breakdown of cortisol.

In fact, curcumin has been found to be every bit as effective as the pharmaceutical drugs cortisone and phenylbutazone in clinical trials.

Unlike anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals, curcumin has no known side effects. Rated by the editors of Time-Life Books (The Alternative Advisor, 1997) as one of the 75 most effective herbs, the authors cite a baker's dozen medical applications for the spice, including many of the Ayurvedic applications.

Turmeric is found not only in Ayurvedic medicine but also Siddha, Unani and other traditional medicine from the Indian sub continent.

In fact, it is also part of Chinese medicine and has even made its way to the Middle east where is has become part of Islamic medicine and was recommended by the Holy Prophet himself.

While it has many medicinal uses, perhaps its greatest potential lies in its ability to reduce inflammation due to osteoarthritis -- those everyday aches and pains in the joints that affect more than 12.1 per cent of the American population.

In other words, more than 21 million Americans above 25 years are affected with some degree of arthritis.

And in this modern world where painkillers are being withdrawn due to unacceptable side effects, many people are more attuned than ever to the potential deadly side-effects of prescription drugs.

That means more people than ever before are searching for more natural solutions to the constant joint pain of arthritis.

A 1997 study in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry showed that turmeric along with capsaicin (from red pepper) lowered inflammation in rats' paws.

Other studies have been done on inflammation not related to joints; one of the studies involved rats, and another involved surgery patients with post-operative inflammation. Both the studies showed that turmeric reduced inflammation as powerfully as the drug phenylbutazone.

While preparing this article, I spoke to Professor Mark Blumenthal who is the founder of the American Botanical Council that has done much work on this herb.

"It is wonderful herb" he said. The evidence he cited was that the herb is found and used by practically every culture in the world.

"The Asian, Middle Easterns, African were way ahead with this herb." In fact, the Europeans may have been the last to catch on. But They are catching on big.

The herb has been used in clinical trials. All the clinical trials point to one thing - you need to get 1,200mg of turmeric extract before you get the needed blood levels to influence pain and inflammation positively.

Therein lies a big problem as tumeric is a huge molecule that is very poorly soluble and hence poorly absorbed. In fact, less than 1 per cent gets absorbed. Thus, you need to get cupfuls to get the required blood levels.

However, new technology from a Belgian university has now enhanced this absorption by 1,000 times. Thus, it is almost like an injection. You get the blood levels that are needed to reduce pain and swelling with just one capsule taken orally.

To get free copies of my article on turmeric and pain as well as some summaries of clinical trials email me at: [email protected] or call 03 79652888.

* Datuk Dr Rajen M. is a pharmacist with a doctorate in holistic medicine. Email him at [email protected]

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