The world today is discovering the magic of Turmeric. Indians knew it all along. Worldwide research is now validating the medicinal properties of the root. In a quiet corner of Noida, the most modern town of Uttar Pradesh in India, scientists have discovered that turmeric has properties that can help fight cancer.
If your grandma put a pinch of turmeric powder into her cooking everyday, it was with good reason. It was not just to give the bright yellow glow to food. It was her best antidote for you. You will rarely see an Indian kitchen without a can of turmeric powder on the shelves. Most of us think it is used in our cooking as curcumin; the bright yellow pigment in the root gives color to the food. But Ayurveda, the ancient form of Indian medicine, had recognized it to be a body cleanser having multiple medicinal properties. Scientific investigations are now showing that it can cure a host of diseases.
Indians have known the magical medicinal properties of turmeric for ages. Ayurveda used it for the treatment of many inflammatory conditions and diseases like arthritic and muscular disorders. It was also used to tackle asthma, flatulence, colic and ringworm.
But today, the versatility of turmeric in combating a number of complex diseases like cancer and multiple sclerosis is amazing scientists abroad. A study by The American Association for Cancer Research in San Francisco, California, shows that turmeric could help lower the risk of cancer. Researchers found in laboratory tests that curcumin can enhance the cancer fighting power in treatment if combined with TRAIL, a naturally occurring molecule that helps kill cancer cells. (TRAIL stands for Tumor necrosis factor related apoptosis inducing ligand).
A study at the University of Texas, Arlington showed that turmeric helped prevent cancer with its anti-oxidant properties. Kathryn Grant and Craig Schneider from the University of Arizona found in clinical trails that turmeric could improve morning stiffness, walking time and swelling in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Closer home, scientists at the Institute of Cytology and Preventive Oncology (ICPO) based in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, have recently found that curcumin protects the body from the deadly Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) that is the main cause for cervical cancer. This is how curcumin works: Certain HPV viruses need viral oncogine protein from cells in the body to express themselves rapidly. Curcumin actually stops the protein from epithelial cells to bind with the virus. Clinical trails of the compound have already started in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, Tata Memorial Hospital and ICPO. The trails will cost over a crore of rupees and will be financed by the department of biotechnology and the Indian Council of Medical Research. Results are expected to take over three years.
Dr. Mangla Rai, Director General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research points out that as turmeric has got so many medicinal properties and will be a very paying proposition in the years to come and there would naturally be an international interest.
International interest in the neuro-protective potential of turmeric has risen after seeing its efficacy in traditional treatment in India. Over 90 scientific institutions in the United States are today studying the magical medical properties of the ancient Indian herb. Many of them are specifically studying how turmeric can inhibit growth of various types of cancer.
The University of Arizona is using a multi-million dollar U.S. government grant to study turmeric’s anti-inflammatory activities. Its team has shown that turmeric could prevent joint inflammation in rats. It has raised hopes of a cure for arthritis and osteoporosis patients that suffer a lot in their later years. Celebrated activist, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Director of the New Delhi based Research Foundation for Science and Technology and Ecology warns that a cowboy company will patent the research on turmeric that is being done by various American universities financed by private money. An ordinary housewife in India who knew the benefits of turmeric will then be denied benefit of the knowledge that the American research has produced. Since the basis of knowledge of turmeric has come from India, it must be shared, as it is not an original invention. Society has disseminated traditional knowledge without making millions. Let the west learn from that and do that too, she says.
Medical research has recently shown that turmeric could halt the spread of breast cancer to the lungs apart from improving the effectiveness of ongoing medication. It has been seen that turmeric has high does of curcumin that is an antidote to breast cancer. Preliminary tests on mice have already been carried out in England.
How does turmeric work? Curcumin works by shutting down a protein active in t he spread of breast cancer. More interestingly, it is also now believed to even reverse a side effect of commonly prescribed chemotherapy whose prolonged use may actually help to spread the disease. Curcumin breaks down the dose, making the therapy less toxic.
Japanese researchers at the Hamamatsu University School of Medicine say that turmeric may help cure colitis that leads to inflammation of the intestines. A preliminary study at the Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee has shown that turmeric may arrest the progression of multiple sclerosis that is an incurable disease affecting the brain.
Dr. A.K. Sen, a senior scientist formerly at the National Institute of Science Communication says that scientists in the United States are today proving in labs what Indian traditional knowledge knew for ages. Potent molecules derived from nature and medicinal plants that were traditionally used will show wonders in newer and newer diseases in the future. Such experiments validate doubts that the intellect questions about traditional medicine, he says.
India produces nearly the whole world’s crop of turmeric. It uses 80 per cent of the produce, as it is an important ingredient in Indian cooking occupying a pride of place on every kitchen shelf.
Turmeric in India was always considered a magical herb. Indian folklore had always said that turmeric helped reduce inflammation. It was used as a blood purifier, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, expectorant and skin tonic. It was used to treat measles, cough, sprains, and scabies.
The tuber is aromatic, stimulant and a tonic. It is also useful in curing periodic attacks of hysteria and convulsions. Its juice or dry powder, mixed in buttermilk or plain water, is highly beneficial in intestinal problems, especially chronic diarrhea. About 20 drops of juice of raw turmeric, mixed with a pinch of salt, taken first thing in the morning is considered an effective remedy for expelling worms.
Early Sanskrit works mentioned Turmeric. Both Ayurvedic and Unani practitioners were familiar with its medicinal properties. It was administered to strengthen the working of the stomach. It was mixed with honey to treat anemia. For measles, dry turmeric roots were powdered and mixed with a few drops of honey along with the juice of few bitter gourd leaves. It was also an effective remedy for chronic cough and throat irritations. Half a teaspoon of fresh turmeric powder mixed in warm milk worked wonders for bronchial asthma. Turmeric with caraway seeds or ajwain helped tackle stubborn colds. It’s paste mixed with lime and salt was used to treat sprains. Your grandmother knew this, before western laboratories discovered it.
Now, western labs are agog with it. In just one year of 2004, as many as 256 papers on turmeric were published in the United States. At the moment there are clinical trials going on in the US to study curcumin treatment for various ailments like cancer, Alzheimer’s and multiple myeloma. Studies have shown a low incidence of colorectal cancer among groups that consumed turmeric suggesting that it may have anti-cancer properties.
Turmeric is also used in the production of sunscreens. In India, it is a common practice to smear turmeric paste on the outer skin of a bride, as it is believed to be a good cosmetic giving a glow to the skin and destroying bacteria.
The government of Thailand is funding a project to ascertain whether they can identify some compounds in turmeric that can be used in cosmetics.
The Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in the late nineties were shocked when the United States Patent and TradeMark Office granted the turmeric patent to the University of Mississippi. The Indian government appealed to the Patent and TradeMark Office to reexamine the turmeric patent. On examination it was rejected, as Indians knew of the use of turmeric for wound healing properties.
With new western research showing what the yellow magical powder can do for health, it is soon destined to add color to western cuisine. But India’s traditional knowledge still does not get the respect it deserves.
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