Letter from Dr. Janson
Curry for The Brain and More
Ask Dr. J.
In the Health News
Recipe of the Month: Curried Red Lentils
In November, Dr. Stephen Straus, the director of the National
Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
at the NIH, told Congress that While augmenting ones
natural healing powers may prove beneficial for some illnesses...there
is no scientific basis to believe that [alternative medicine]
would be of much value in the context of virulent diseases
incited by biological weapons.
Dr. Wayne Jonas, the former director of the Office of Alternative
Medicine had reported on a study of homeopathy in mice with
the infectious disease tularemia, and he found that the death
rate was reduced by 22 percent by the treatment. Straus and
Jonas were testifying before the House Government Reform Committee,
which has displayed the most serious interest in alternative
medicine of any government body (sometimes including even
While I agree with Dr. Jonas when he says that purveyors
of many supposedly alternative remedies (such as colloidal
silver), through the Internet and other avenues, had little
scientific justification for their remedies for infections,
this is not to say that all alternative remedies are useless
for these conditions.
Straus said enigmatically that if effective alternative remedies
existed, they probably would have been found already. In such
a comment, he makes the assumption that all alternative remedies
have been in use for centuries, and that there have been no
Why he should assume this is unclear, as unconventional,
or alternative does not mean old, such as the
recent discovery that the spice turmeric appears to help prevent
Alzheimers disease. This and other spices have a long
history of use, but only recently have some of their benefits
been revealed. Reuters Health quoted Straus regarding measles,
yellow fever, smallpox, typhus, and HIV as saying, Had
the traditional healing rituals and natural products available
to pre-20th-century man been truly effective, our history
would have been rather different.
This is naive and ill-informed. History is differentdifferent
from what it might have been had they not had traditional
These remedies may well have reduced the incidence and mortality
of these diseases, although probably not as much as better
hygiene (the alternative remedy of a century ago) and modern
plumbing. More importantly, recent discoveries about natural
remedies have contributed to our knowledge and treatment of
disease, including infectious disease. No healing art is stagnant.
We always learn new things. At one time there were medical
specialists, pellagrologists, treating the many varied manifestations
of pellagra, until it was discovered that this was a simple
deficiency disease, treatable (unbelievably to the medical
community) with a simple vitamin, niacin. This alternative
treatment wiped out not only pellagra, but a whole medical
Elderly people in India have a much lower incidence
of Alzheimers disease than those in the Western world.
It is known that high doses of antioxidants, such as vitamin
E, as well as supplements of ginkgo biloba can delay the progression
of Alzheimers dementia. Now research suggests that the
reason Alzheimers is lower in the Indian population
may be the high consumption of curry in food. The rate of
Alzheimers in India is less than one percent among the
population over the age of 65, and this is the lowest in the
Curry is a mixture of spices, including turmeric, which is
responsible for its yellow-orange color. Turmeric is a root-like
rhizome in the ginger family, containing a group of compounds
known collectively as curcumin, or curcuminoids. This mixture
of phytochemicals has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant
effects, as well as liver protective benefits.
Curcumin is a natural substitute for drugs, such as
the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDS) in managing
symptoms of injury, arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases.
These drugs include such heavily advertised and prescribed
products as Celebrex and Vioxx, and the over-the-counter Advil
and Aleve. The former two are known as COX-2 (cyclo-oxygenase)
inhibitors, relating to the inflammatory enzyme that they
block. The latter two are not as specific, blocking both forms
While these drugs can relieve symptoms, they commonly cause
side effects, which are often serious, such as bleeding in
the gastrointestinal tract. NSAIDS account for a significant
proportion of the more than 100,000 annual deaths from prescription
drugs, and recent information links the COX-2 inhibitors to
heart deaths and kidney problems. The COX-2 inhibitors were
supposed to be safer on the stomach, but an FDA advisory panel
has been unwilling to drop the warning about this side effect.
Turmeric, like ginger, reduces inflammation and provides
free-radical protection. It is a natural COX-2 inhibitor,
but it does not have the side effects of the drugs. Researchers
have given daily doses up to 8000 mg without toxicity. In
the recent study of Alzheimers disease, the researchers
injected rats with a substance called amyloid, which accumulates
in the brains of Alzheimers patients, in order to mimic
When they fed the rats a diet rich in curcumin, the animals
accumulated less beta-amyloid, they retained protein in the
synapses (cell junctions), and they performed better on memory
tests. They also observed that the animals in the treatment
group had less inflammation of the brain and neurological
tissues. A previous study in mice, by the same researchers,
showed a reduction of two Alzheimers markersthe
proinflammatory cytokine interleukin-1 beta, and activated
In addition to its benefits for the brain, the reduction
of inflammation not only helps conditions such as arthritis,
hepatitis, and acute injuries, but also is likely to reduce
heart disease. Numerous studies now support the role of chronic
inflammation as a risk factor for hardening of the arteries.
Studies have related the level of C-reactive protein, or CRP,
an inflammatory marker in the blood, to increased heart disease.
Curcumin reduces the adhesiveness of platelets, lowering
the risk of blood clotting in blood vessels compromised by
atherosclerosis. Aspirin in low doses is given to inhibit
platelet aggregation, but even the low doses have potential
side effects, and curcumin, among many other natural products
(garlic, essential fatty acids, ginkgo biloba, bilberry, and
ginger are examples) lowers platelet activity without side
The antioxidant effects of curcumin may be partly responsible
for protection of the brain from Alzheimers disease.
This effect is also protective against heart disease by reducing
cholesterol, raising good HDL, and lowering oxidized LDL cholesterol,
which damages cells and arteries.
Curcumin has specific benefits in prevention and treatment
of cancer. It causes cell death in eight different melanoma
cell types, even cells that are resistant to chemotherapy.
It inhibits the growth and causes cell death in breast cancer
cells, prostate cancers implanted in mice, and in gastric
and colon cancers.
Try to include curry dishes in your meal planning. You will
find many books and online sources for recipes, but understand
that in India, they eat curry virtually every day, so this
would be quite a change from typical diets. However, curcumin
is so valuable in both prevention and treatment of so many
health problems that it is a good idea to take supplements.
Standardized extracts of turmeric, are available, containing
90 percent curcumin. Typical doses of such supplements are
600 to 1200 mg per day, but for acute injuries or serious
illnesses, larger doses may be useful.
Consider the benefits of combining curcumin with other protective
nutrients, such as vitamin E (400 to 800 IU daily), ginkgo
biloba (120 mg), N-acetyl cysteine (NAC, 1000 to 2000 mg),
and vitamin C (2000 to 4000 mg). With a complete health program
of exercise, whole, natural foods, and relaxation, you should
be able to preserve brain function while preventing many chronic
diseases and slowing down the aging process.
Q. My elder brother has had adult diabetes for many years.
He still has trouble controlling his blood sugar with medications,
and he is developing numbness in his feet. Any suggestions?
A. Diabetes is an increasing problem in the USA, and by 2050
the numbers may increase to 165 percent of current levels,
so your brother is not alone. Diet and exercise are most important.
I recommend a high fiber diet (vegetables, whole grains, legumes,
fruits, nuts, and seeds are all high in fiber, and they have
essential fatty acids).
The most important exercise is regular, moderate activity,
done at least every day (a gorilla has to exercise every time
it wants to eat!). Walking, jogging, cycling, stair or ski
machines will all give a good workout. Aerobics and mild weight
exercise will help build muscle, and extra muscle metabolizes
sugar more efficiently.
Supplements of chromium, usually in high doses of 1000 mcg
per day, significantly reduce blood sugar levels, and many
patients can come off their medications with this supplement.
Your brother should be careful with his medication dose when
taking any of these supplements.
Alpha-lipoic acid, a sulfur-containing, high-potency antioxidant,
can also help control blood sugar. The numbness in the feet
that your brother describes could be the early stages of peripheral
neuropathy, a nerve degeneration commonly seen in long-term
diabetics. Alpha-lipoic acid also helps to reverse peripheral
neuropathy. The usual dose for sugar control is about 300
to 600 mg, and for neuropathy, about 600 to 1200 mg per day.
The heart is also affected by neuropathy, with reduction
of the normal variation in heart rate. One study showed that
within four months of daily treatment with 800 mg of alpha-lipoic
acid, the heart was significantly improved. As an antioxidant,
alpha-lipoic acid has advantages: it absorbs easily, crosses
the blood-brain barrier, and works both inside and outside
of cells for protection of the brain and other neurological
Alpha-lipoic acid works even better when taken with supplements
of gamma linolenic acid (GLA) of 240 mg daily. This is found
in capsules of borage oil or evening primrose oil.
I also recommend vitamin B12 for neuropathy, either by injection
or taking 1000 to 2500 mcg orally. High doses of oral B12
can substitute for injections. Complement these with B-complex,
vitamins C and E, magnesium, and bioflavonoids.
Antibiotics are far overused, partly due to patient
pressure on doctors, even when no antibiotics are indicated.
Viral infections are not helped by antibiotics, but in 1600
physician visits, researchers found that about 80 percent
of the antibiotic prescriptions were unnecessary for respiratory
infections. (Scott JG, et al., J Fam Pract 2001 Oct;50(10):853-8)
Patients made requests, modified symptoms, and suggested diagnoses;
physicians rationalized their inappropriate treatment. Patients
and doctors need education on the dangers of antibiotics overuse,
and the alternatives for immune support, such as vitamins
C and E, echinacea, astragalus, garlic, and low sugar diets.
People with mildly increased blood pressure that is
not considered abnormal, frequently go on to develop significant
hypertension within four years. (Ramachandran et al., Lancet
November 17, 2001; 358: 1682-86) People with optimal BP of
under 120/80 had only one-third the risk of developing hypertension
as those in the range of 120-129/80-84. This means that it
is important to maintain optimal BP through a high-fiber,
mostly-vegetarian diet with garlic and onions, exercise, stress
management, and supplements, such as vitamins C and E, omega-3
oils, and magnesium. For already elevated BP, add supplements
of coenzyme Q10, garlic, arginine, and taurine.
Obese people who have had a heart attack have
a higher risk of recurrence than people of normal weight.
This finding was not explained by diabetes, cholesterol, hypertension,
exercise, smoking, age, sex, or heart failure. (Rea TD, et
al., Am J Cardiol 2001 Sep 1;88(5):467-72.) Other factors
that the authors suggested might play a role: inflammation,
increase in thrombosis factors, or nervous system activity.
Sauté onions, garlic, celery and carrots in a small
amount of olive oil, then add curry powder to taste (hot or
mild curries are available). I add extra cumin, which is a
component of curry blends (in addition to coriander, cardamom,
anise, turmeric, cinnamon, fenugreek, and hot peppers). Fold
in one cup of red lentils, mix well, and add 2 cups of water
(with extra water you can make this a soup, called mulligatawny
in India). Simmer to infuse the flavors until the lentils
are cooked. Add extra chopped chard, spinach, or mustard greens
at the end, and after turning off the heat fold in some chopped
cilantro. Serve this with brown rice or whole wheat flat bread
(chapati), and a salad.
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