We have all heard the saying, "Variety is the spice of life."
It's true. I am currently taking a very interesting class called
Oriental Medicine Nutrition and Food Therapy taught by instructor
Eric Baker. This class is so wonderful because it discusses Western
diet, basic theory of flavors and energetics/temperatures, but also
herbs and food and classical theory of diet. The required reading
for the class is the Tao of Healthy Eating: Dietary According
to Traditional Chinese Medicine by Bob Flaws.
I became more aware of the life and death importance of healthy
diets after the sudden passing of my father in February 2, 2011 of
an acute myocardial infarction, coronary artery disease, and
hypotension. My dad loved food but he had a rich fatty diet that he
refused to change. I took a good look at my diet and decided this
was the year my family would commit to lifestyle change focusing on
healthy eating. Many of my patients in the clinic have inquired
about Chinese food therapy for weight loss, diabetes, high blood
pressure, and overall improving their health.
So let's break out the spices and herbs and look at the health
benefits, including higher energy, increased immunity and overall
enhancement of our life and longevity. It is so surprising
how easy it is to incorporate herbs and foods in our diet. I wanted
to share the spices I have incorporated in my family's diet and an
herb I recently learned in Chinese nutritional class last
Garlic is a plant with pungent flavor. Garlic
has been shown to improve cholesterol and lower blood pressure.
According to the National Health and Medical Research Council,
consuming half to one clove of garlic daily may reduce cholesterol
by nearly 10%. In vitrostudies show garlic to have antibacterial,
antiviral, and antifungal activity. Your breath might suffer, but
your heart will thank you. As an antibacterial, garlic is often
used to treat minor infections.
Curry, a staple spice combo in Southeast Asian
cuisine, contains turmeric, the yellow spice that gives curry its
distinctive color. The active component in turmeric is called cur
cumin. If you are a fan of curry, you will be happy to know that
this substance is associated with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant,
anti-tumor, and anti-amyloid properties. Amyloids are plaque-like
proteins that build up in brain tissue, and are responsible for
diseases like Alzheimer's and rheumatoid arthritis. In one
randomized control study, 107 patients with knee osteoarthritis
received either 800 mg per day ibuprofen or 2 grams per day Curcuma
extract. Both groups showed improvement in pain on level walking
and climbing stairs. Basically, curry is linked with joint
Cinnamon is one of my family's favorite spices.
Many clinical studies have linked it to lowering blood sugar. Both
in vitro and human studies show improvement in insulin sensitivity
with cinnamon polyphenols, as well as improvement in total and LDL
cholesterol. Cinnamon is also thought to detoxify the system and
stimulate brain function. Its antiseptic properties give it the
ability to fight bladder infection, and if taken in the first 48
hours, a cup of strong cinnamon tea might just nip a bladder
infection in the bud. Keep in mind that mixed study results make it
difficult to prove these benefits on paper - but it doesn't hurt to
sprinkle a teaspoon into your next bowl of oatmeal or make a patch
of yummy cinnamon pancakes (my kids love them).
Dang Gui (Bu Due Tang) is a Chinese herb
that tonifies the blood. Dang gui roots contain phytoestrogens,
which are chemicals found in plants that mimic the effects of
estrogen in the body. Dang gui is said to help balance women
hormones level and is good for women's overall health. It is used
to treat menstrual and menopausal symptoms, including migraine,
cramps, mood fluctuations, and hot flashes. It is also said to help
speed a woman's recovery from childbirth and symptoms of low
energy/chronic fatigue. Dang gui has been used to treat angina,
high blood pressure, and irregular heart. Some studies have shown
that the antispasmodic, dilating effects of dang gui may help treat
chronic pulmonary hypertension in people with chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (COPD), especially when taken in combination with
the drug nifedipine. Currently, there is a study to determine if
dang gui has the ability to treat cancer, liver and kidney disease.
Pregnant women should not take this herb.
Cardamom is found in curries, rice dishes, herbal
teas, and breads, and is the spice that gives chai tea its main
flavor. In Asia, cardamom has long been valued medicinally for its
ability to increase circulation and improve energy. Cardamom may
also improve digestion, asthma, bronchitis, halitosis, and even
help improve a bad mood. Overall, cardamom helps with
In last week's blog, I mentioned cumin.
Cumin is an excellent spice addition to meat
curries, stews, vegetables, seafood, and sauces. Cumin is thought
to boost the immune system and also to improve liver function,
reduce flatulence, and aid in digestion. It's good to take to keep
colds and flus away!
I saved the best for last. Ginger is a root
that helps relieve nausea, arthritis, headaches, menstrual cramps,
and muscle soreness. I love ginger because it can treat so many
symptoms. I often enjoy a cup of ginger tea. Preliminary research
indicates that nine compounds found in ginger may bind to human serotonin receptors, which may
function. Research conducted in vitro tests show that ginger
extract might control the quantity of free radicals and the
peroxidation of lipids. In a 2010 study, daily consumption of
ginger was shown to help ease muscle pain associated with exercise
by 25%. Ginger root supplement has been identified in one study to
help reduce colon inflammation markers such as PGE2, thus
indicating a measure that might affect colon cancer.
Word to the Wise: Always discuss with
your patients before treating conditions with spices and herbs to
avoid any adverse interactions. For example, because garlic and
ginger possess natural blood-thinning properties, individuals about
to undergo surgery and those taking blood thinners should take
extra precaution. An added personal side note, remember to keep
herbs and spices in cool and dry places. Especially for spices, the
peak life is six months in order to preserve their oils and prevent
loss of pungent flavors.
Noted statistical data and research studies cited from Huonker
et al. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemist, May 2010, www.sciencedaily.com, www.uofmhealth.org, www.tcmhealthinfo.org.
Remember to "spice it up" - and "herbs can be superb"! Thanks
for continuing to support the AOM blog.