The spices of life

People around the world have been using spice cures for centuries, but now scientists are proving that spices can ease inflammation, activate the immune system, kill bacteria and viruses and even kill cancer cells. Some research suggests that compounds in spices might help fight everything from Alzheimer’s disease and cancer to depression and diabetes. Look for these potential medicines in your spice rack.

Turmeric: Asia’s aspirinTurmeric

Turmeric has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to heal wounds and treat inflammatory illnesses like arthritis as well as a dozen other health problems. Made from the powdered root of a tropical plant related to ginger, turmeric contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.

Research suggests curcumin might help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. Investigators at the University of California at Los Angeles, studying a mouse model of Alzheimer’s, reported that the brains of animals fed curcumin had up to 80 percent fewer of the protein plaques associated with the disease than those of mice given a normal diet.

Clinical studies indicate that a daily dose of up a tablespoon a day for three months is considered safe—and you know what they say about a tablespoon of prevention.

Saffron: The priciest spiceSaffron

The world’s most expensive spice, saffron has been used as everything from an aphrodisiac to a remedy for colds and stomach problems. It was also used in traditional Persian medicine to treat depression, which inspired modern clinical trials that showed that mildly and moderately depressed adults who received a daily 30-milligram capsule of saffron for six weeks experienced a significant improvement over those who were given a placebo.

A series of studies in animals found that saffron extracts blocked or slowed the development of colon, skin and soft-tissue tumors.

Chili Peppers: Kicks from capsaicinChilis3

All hot peppers, from cayenne to habaneros to the ultra-fiery Bhut Jolokia or “ghost chili,” get their kick from capsaicin, a compound that triggers the body to produce more heat, and hence, burn more energy.

This reaction may help fight obesity. But don’t cancel your gym membership just yet. Eating even the spiciest salsa will never beat exercise for burning calories. You might still, however, want to add more spicy food to your diet. Scientists also think capsaicin may cause cancer cells to self-destruct while leaving normal cells unharmed.

Ginger: Not just for gingerbread anymoreGinger

This aromatic root has been used in Ayurvedic, Chinese and traditional Islamic medicine to treat health problems including digestive ailments, morning sickness, arthritis, infectious diseases, fever, high blood pressure, pain and muscle aches.

Animal and test-tube studies that have found that ginger can lower both blood sugar and cholesterol, contains pain-killing compounds that mimic nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) with fewer side effects, eases inflammation from arthritis and protects against ulcers. The results of studies in rodents that found that ginger has powerful antioxidant properties that protect against the toxic effects of radiation treatment and skin diseases caused by ultraviolet B radiation.

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The spices of life

People around the world have been using spice cures for centuries, but now scientists are proving that spices can ease inflammation, activate the immune system, kill bacteria and viruses and even kill cancer cells. Some research suggests that compounds in spices might help fight everything from Alzheimer’s disease and cancer to depression and diabetes. Look for these potential medicines in your spice rack.

Turmeric: Asia’s aspirinTurmeric

Turmeric has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to heal wounds and treat inflammatory illnesses like arthritis as well as a dozen other health problems. Made from the powdered root of a tropical plant related to ginger, turmeric contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.

Research suggests curcumin might help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. Investigators at the University of California at Los Angeles, studying a mouse model of Alzheimer’s, reported that the brains of animals fed curcumin had up to 80 percent fewer of the protein plaques associated with the disease than those of mice given a normal diet.

Clinical studies indicate that a daily dose of up a tablespoon a day for three months is considered safe—and you know what they say about a tablespoon of prevention.

Saffron: The priciest spiceSaffron

The world’s most expensive spice, saffron has been used as everything from an aphrodisiac to a remedy for colds and stomach problems. It was also used in traditional Persian medicine to treat depression, which inspired modern clinical trials that showed that mildly and moderately depressed adults who received a daily 30-milligram capsule of saffron for six weeks experienced a significant improvement over those who were given a placebo.

A series of studies in animals found that saffron extracts blocked or slowed the development of colon, skin and soft-tissue tumors.

Chili Peppers: Kicks from capsaicinChilis3

All hot peppers, from cayenne to habaneros to the ultra-fiery Bhut Jolokia or “ghost chili,” get their kick from capsaicin, a compound that triggers the body to produce more heat, and hence, burn more energy.

This reaction may help fight obesity. But don’t cancel your gym membership just yet. Eating even the spiciest salsa will never beat exercise for burning calories. You might still, however, want to add more spicy food to your diet. Scientists also think capsaicin may cause cancer cells to self-destruct while leaving normal cells unharmed.

Ginger: Not just for gingerbread anymoreGinger

This aromatic root has been used in Ayurvedic, Chinese and traditional Islamic medicine to treat health problems including digestive ailments, morning sickness, arthritis, infectious diseases, fever, high blood pressure, pain and muscle aches.

Animal and test-tube studies that have found that ginger can lower both blood sugar and cholesterol, contains pain-killing compounds that mimic nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) with fewer side effects, eases inflammation from arthritis and protects against ulcers. The results of studies in rodents that found that ginger has powerful antioxidant properties that protect against the toxic effects of radiation treatment and skin diseases caused by ultraviolet B radiation.

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