In today’s world there is an overabundance of disease, especially in the United States. Much of the evidence attributes the occurrence of chronic disease to our modern lifestyle, which is often defined by stress, lack of sleep and exercise, abuse of tobacco and alcohol, and to the “transition from natural unprocessed foods to processed, calorie-condensed and heat-treated foods” (S. Bengmark et al., page 274).
Most diseases are created and proliferate through a sustained discreet but obvious increase in systemic inflammation. These risk factors are further amplified by the insufficient intake of plant fibers and plant antioxidants, as well as the increased consumption of industrially produced and processed dairy products, refined sugars and starch products.
Produced and pasteurized products have been proven to produce inflammatory effects when consumed. And modern medicine has, to a large extent, failed to counteract these effects in order to control acute and chronic disease. So what are the alternatives?
Perhaps the solution is to do what some cultures have been doing for generations: address health issues through changes to diet and lifestyle. There are many ways to go about this, but in this article I will give you a simple jumping off point. No need to feel overwhelmed; begin by slowly incorporating some of the advice in this article and make increasing change as you become more comfortable.
So here are the facts: Polyphenols are compounds found in plants that have been shown to reduce inflammation, and therefore have been effective in treatment and even prevention of disease.
A few examples of polyphenols include:
- Isothiocyanates in cabbage and broccoli
- Epigallocatechin in green tea
- Capsaicin in chili peppers
- Chalones, rutin and naringenin in apples
- Resveratrol in red wine and fresh peanuts
- Curcumin in turmeric
The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of these foods interfere with carcinogenic processes within the body.
Many herbs and spices, specifically turmeric, have been used in traditional medicine for treatment of both external and internal inflammatory conditions. These conditions include Crohn’s, cancer, liver cirrhosis, chronic renal disease, chronic obstructive lung disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease (S. Bengmark et al., page 273).
One of the biggest advantages to using food as medicine is the low potential for adverse side effects (unlike pharmaceuticals). In studies, turmeric showed no side effects at even 8,000 mg per day.
A deeper look: In a study by Tzung-Hsun Tsai et al. examining the anti-cancer effects of food, five commonly used spices were ranked based on their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Both of these aspects are critical in cancer prevention and treatment. Below I’ve listed the results.
Ranking for antioxidant capabilities:
- Red pepper
- Green onion
Ranking for anti-inflammatory capabilities:
- Green onion
- Red peppers
You will notice that ginger ranks fairly high in both sections of the study. Curcumin (turmeric) is one of the phenolic compounds found in ginger that actually exceeds the antioxidant ability of vitamin E. It is a powerful antioxidant and inhibitor of several carcinogenic pathways caused by inflammation.
This spice can both prevent and attenuate the advances of many illnesses, including: hepatic (liver-related), pancreatic, intestinal, neurodegenerative, ocular, respiratory, and tobacco/cigarette smoke-induced diseases. By reducing inflammation turmeric can prevent the harmful tissue development in both the brain and body.
Garlic is also high in the anti-inflammatory ranking, which explains its ability to destroy tumor cells by enhancing immune function, as well as other modes of interfering in carcinogenesis (Tzung-Hsun Tsai et al., Journal of Food Science, page C96).
There are many other foods that can be used as medicine that exceed the boundaries of these studies. If you are interested in learning more, the “Journal of Food Science” is a great resource, and there are several options for books entitled Food as Medicine if you need additional advice. For help incorporating Curcumin into your diet here is a great supplement by NatureWise that improves absorption and does not contain GMOs: