Eat Drink Better

Published on October 1st, 2009 | by Jigyasa Jyotika


Death by Chocolate and Resuscitation by Golden-Yellow Powder

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Revered in India as “holy” this golden-yellow colored powder is worth its weight in gold, that too nutritionally, but not monetarily.

Any guesses what I’m talking about?

This ingredient has been hailed for centuries for its ability to treat wounds, infections and other health problems. But until recently, the science of the healing remained a mystery.

We’re talking, of course, about turmeric. None else can fill its yellow shoes.        The Turmeric Plant

The use of turmeric as a coloring and healing agent for food  dates back to as far as 600 B.C. Amongst the other oldest recorded references to turmeric is an account by Marco Polo in his travels to China in 1280. Repeated historical references to turmeric across communities ensured it crossed over from folklore into everyday use.

Curios researchers that flocked to test the powder in the last few decades, identified curcumin as the chief active ingredient in turmeric. This said little though, apart from changing the alphabets that carried the mystery from turmeric to curcumin. But it added specificity to the “magical” effect of turmeric, by labeling curcumin an antioxidant, anti-cancer, antibiotic, antiviral and other properties has been revealed.

It wasn’t until March this year that University of Michigan researchers led by Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy discovered the scientific basis of curcumin’s activities in human cells.

It turns out that cucurcmin is somewhat of a Nazi. The molecule inserting itself into the cell membranes, somehow making them more orderly. And somehow being lined up straight makes cells more resistant to infection and malignancy.

If you ask me, while the curcurmin is doing everything it’s supposed to in cells, the scientists need to do some more explaining.

Ramamoorthy, the lead Professor of chemistry and biophysics behind this work told Science News that the cell membrane goes from being crazy and floppy to being more disciplined and ordered, so that information flow through it can be controlled.


With no science education to her credit, my grandmother just knew that  giving me turmeric in milk when I had a cold as a child growing up in India, would work wonders for me. It did.

Natural antibiotics like turmeric exemplify what I think should be a larger trend. It is this larger trend that Michel Pollan is advocating throughout the country in his talks. His book, aptly titled “In Defense of Food” argues, that nature has everything we ever needed for healthy living and that it is time society took a step towards a more natural form of living. His argument that there are cultures all over the world today that are closer o nature and healthier than the more affluent, but more artificial societies of the west also points us in the same direction.

In fact, if anything, it is unnaturalness that is the primary cause of  unhealthy lifestyles today. The sheer change in levels of human activity in the last few decades are probably nothing less than an evolutionary shock to the human body, which was programmed for far higher levels of activity. From forging for our own food, to moving less than a few feet to reach into the fridge, is a spectacular change and one that definitely comes with implications.

It may be useful for us to realize that biggest experiments with food were for earlier times, and those times solved the major questions. Ours may be to stick to that and interestingly, this makes me think that progress can sometimes mean regressing, but intelligently.

According to Science News, Ramamoorthy too was given turmeric laced milk to drink when he had a cold as a child, (not by my grandmother though.)

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4 Responses to Death by Chocolate and Resuscitation by Golden-Yellow Powder

  1. valerie says:

    I take this everyday via capsules–What do you recommend as a daily dose?

  2. MD says:

    I had the same question – what’s a good amount to take each day?

  3. Interesting. I have a bit of trouble picturing the flavor of turmeric in milk, but I have a few recipes I use it in. Great addition to change the flavor of leftover Thanksgiving turkey.

  4. Jigyasa Jyotika says:

    Well, given that it’s a medicinal herb, there isn’t a fixed dosage. I’d say a teaspoonful with milk is a safe dose from experience, but really, if you’re worried, as a doctor.

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