As a graduate student working towards my PhD in molecular biology at a highly regarded US University, the last thing I expected to hear touted for its beneficial effects on cancer (and pretty much everything else) was 'haldi'! Having grown up in India, I had witnessed the spice turmeric or haldi being indiscriminately claimed as the ultimate panacea for all ailments. Fighting a sore throat? Turmeric boiled in milk was what mum (and often the doc) ordered. Suffering a digestive upset? Turmeric-infused 'khichdi' - rice and lentil porridge - was a must. Healing from an open wound? A paste of turmeric and water would do the trick. And even plagued by unwanted body hair?! Turmeric mixed with chickpea flour and water was better than anything Sally Hansen could concoct. You can therefore imagine my delighted surprise when world-renowned scientists and clinicians at Harvard and everywhere else were suddenly obsessed with curcumin, a bioactive component of turmeric, for its miraculous medicinal properties.
Ancient medical systems like Ayurveda in India and Traditional Chinese Medicine began using turmeric as medicine about 4000 years ago. It has a plethora of claimed health benefits including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, choleretic (promoting bile production by the liver), antimicrobial and carminative (preventing formation of and easing discomfort from abdominal gas) effects. Traditionally therefore, it's been used for digestive distress, jaundice, menstrual problems, heart disease, colic, gallbladder ailments, arthritis, conjunctivitis, skin cancer, small pox, chicken pox, wound healing, urinary tract infections, liver problems, respiratory conditions, anorexia and diabetic wounds. The list is long! A query for turmeric on Pubmed, a search engine for all biomedical research and review articles, yields 3000+ results over the last 70 years. Modern science is frantically trying to understand why this miracle spice has dominated the traditional medicine cabinet for centuries and how it may be used effectively in modern medicine.