"Turmeric is the best," said Vasant Lad, an Indian-trained practitioner who runs the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque. But there may be other healing medicines in the Indian spice box hiding out among the cardamom, cinnamon, cumin and coriander.
With high-tech laboratories now unraveling the mysteries of exotic ingredients from far-off cuisines, some scientists speculate that Indian cuisine itself may offer enhanced healing powers when certain ingredients are combined.
A spicy aloo gobi, or potato-cauliflower curry, for instance, might be even better for you than either a capsule of curcumin powder or a serving of steamed cauliflower.
In studies published last month in the journal Cancer Research, scientists at Rutgers University combined curcumin with phenethyl isothiocyanate, a potent anticancer compound found in cauliflower, kale and cabbage. The combination reversed the growth of prostate tumors in mice.
"The individual compounds did not work on an established tumor," said Tony Kong, professor of Pharmaceutics at Rutgers' Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy and the lead investigator in the study. "But the combined one did."
Kong says eating curry and vegetables a few times a month might help with disease prevention.
In a similarly synergistic way, when piperine, the active component of black pepper, is combined with curcumin, the curcumin becomes 2,000 times more effective, said Bharat B. Aggarwal, professor of cancer medicine in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
"This is becoming another science altogether," said Aggarwal. "People did not know why they do what they do. But as Hippocrates said, 'Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.' "
-- Hilary E. MacGregor