Beyond turmeric

I've been reading studies about turmeric and recommending it to people for well over a decade, but lately I've been looking for another herb that can fulfill my health care dreams to an equal extent.

I'm reminded of the Huey Lewis song, "I Want a New Drug."

But guess what? I haven't found one. I've written about turmeric in this column before, how it's the Indian subcontinent's crown jewel of rhizomes — an amazing herb best known for flavoring curries.

But it is so much more.

Despite turmeric's diminutive stature, its impact is already widespread on the spice stage. And while its potential is huge in the drug world, prescription meds could only wish they assumed such an esteemed position.

Turmeric's therapeutic benefits and value can't be touched by any drug I've seen prescribed. Its upside is tremendous while side effects are minimal.

Turmeric and integral compounds called curcuminoids continually stand up to clinical trials.

A short list of its proven actions include anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-tumor and cholesterol-lowering. It also protects the liver and urinary tract and shows promise as an anti-Alzheimer's agent.

There's little question about turmeric's efficacy in slowing the spread of various cancers, but less is known about the number of other foods, nutrients and drugs with which it may synergize to help overcome specific diseases, including cancer.

One of the country's best-known turmeric proponents is Dr. Bharat Aggarwal from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. In an interview, he recently revealed that more than 1,000 cancer patients there are currently taking curcumin from turmeric. They're receiving neither chemotherapy nor radiation and, in his words, are getting "significant results."

Maybe I don't need a new herb, after all.

Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness and the Centre for Natural Healing. He teaches at Southern Oregon University and College of the Siskiyous. E-mail him at

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