Medicines for the treatment of various diseases and ailments historically have come from plants. Aspirin was originally found in the leaves of willow trees. The first antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered in mold growing on petri dishes. Digitalis, a drug that makes the heart beat stronger, was first extracted from the foxglove plant. There have been many expeditions to jungles and other exotic places throughout the world charged with bringing back samples of different plant species to test their effectiveness as new drugs.
One such plant that has generated a lot of attention recently has been used as a spice for centuries. Turmeric is a plant that is native to southern Asia. Its root was utilized as a bright-yellow dye and, later, ground up and used in Siddah medicine. It has been used in India for thousands of years as a spice and medicinal herb.
The active medicine in the turmeric root is known as curcumin. Curcumin is classified as a powerful antioxidant as well as a potent anti-inflammatory compound. The anti-inflammatory action of curcumin is what is getting scientists all excited. Inflammation is the body’s way of dealing with any outside attack by bacteria and viruses as well as beginning the healing of any local bodily injury, such as a sprained ankle. So inflammation is a normal body process. The trouble begins when the inflammation becomes persistent and goes on for long periods. Chronic inflammation can spread over the entire body, resulting in long-term debilitating muscle pain, hardening of the arteries, and interference with activities of daily living.
Cancer is a group of diseases where the bodies own cells break down and short-circuit. The cells then begin to divide unrestricted, leading to malignant tumors that grow uncontrolled until the body is destroyed. It is thought the number one cause of cancer is chronic inflammation of some type. For example, smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Smoking irritates the lung tissues until some cells are broken enough to turn cancerous. Any type of long-term inflammation can lead to the development of a cancer in irritated tissues.
Low-level chronic inflammation is now thought to have a link to almost every chronic disease—from heart disease to degenerative arthritis, to various types of auto-immune diseases and cancers, to diabetes, and even to Alzheimer’s. So, it makes good sense that anything that can decrease chronic inflammation can lead to a lower incidence of these major diseases.
Initial trials with curcumin demonstrated that it compares favorably in reducing inflammation, even when compared against strong prescription medications. It has few side effects with dosages up to several grams per day safely tolerated.
Curcumin is not without its drawbacks. It is a large fat-soluble molecule that is not absorbed very well by the gut. What that means is if not taken properly you’ll just end up dumping it out the bowels with little actively absorbed by the gut.
To maximize curcumin absorption, there are a couple of steps you can take: The first is to take it with a fatty meal. The fat in the meal helps dissolve the curcumin where it can be taken up by the gut. You can also take it with fatty vitamins, such as gel-capsules of Vitamin D3 or Vitamin E that are also oil based.
It is known that the presence of pepper in the gut increases absorption of nutrients. Some patients have swallowed a couple peppercorns with their curcumin capsules. Bioperine (another name for the active ingredient in pepper) is a supplement that enhances absorption of curcumin by 2,000%, so taking this together with curcumin is highly recommended.
Some caution must be used with this method because peppercorns and bioperine will also increase the absorption of any drug taken with it, including blood pressure medication, anti-anxiety medication, etc., increasing the therapeutic dose you are getting. Do not swallow bioperine together with prescription drugs. Curcumin is rapidly removed from the body by the kidneys and dumped out in the urine. To maintain active blood levels it must be taken daily.
Curcumin comes from purifying the turmeric plant that contains it. Think of the turmeric plant like an orange: An orange contains vitamin C. You can eat the orange and absorb the vitamin C or you can refine the orange and extract the vitamin C from it and take it that way. Some feel that it is better to take the unrefined turmeric over curcumin supplements since there are compounds that work together synergistically "as nature intended" in whole vs. refined plants.
In closing, chronic inflammation is one of the biggest contributors to major Western diseases. Turmeric/curcumin can be a powerful ally in knocking back this inflammation early on without the stomach-eating side effects of most prescription anti-inflammatories.
There are many other natural substances in day-to-day use that can help combat major diseases. Resveratrol, the active ingredient in red wine shown to reverse plaquing in arteries, is another one.
In our office, all patients seeking a holistic evaluation receive a nutritional workup as an important part of their exam. Many have kitchen cabinets filled with half-empty vials of vitamins, minerals, and herbs they might have seen on TV shows or read about in magazines but don’t know how much they should take. A competent nutritional evaluation can steer patients towards their proper nutritional needs.
Dr. Schwan is available to speak to your group on a wide variety of alternative medicine topics, including chiropractic, acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition, vitamins, etc. He is a graduate of the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture & Palmer College of Chiropractic and president of Schwan Chiropractic & Acupuncture Clinic in Toledo, Ohio. He is an author, lecturer, and one-time standup comedian. For more information on alternative medicine, please visit his website at www.acupuncturetoledo.com. ❦