It's official: Curry is good for you

By contributor Sean Carey

Around 10,000 Indian, Bangladeshi, Nepalese and Pakistani restaurants and takeaways in the U.K. routinely serve up curry to a significant proportion of the country’s 62 million population. Curry is probably the nation’s most popular food. According to one recent estimate the sector is worth around £3.6 billion annually and employs some 80,000 people.

Powdered turmeric. Flickr/megabeth

No surprises, then, that British newspaper editors are interested in publishing “curry” stories. In the last week alone, two reports about the likely role that curcumin, the bioactive substance which gives turmeric its yellow colouring, plays in human health have made the headlines.

The first story came from a study carried out at the Shobhaben Pratapbhai Patel School of Pharmacy and Technology Management in Mumbai. Researchers combined curcumin with piperine, an extract of black pepper, and the flavonoid quercetin, which is found in a wide variety of fruit and vegetables as well as black and green tea. The combination of the three substances called CPQ had a dramatic effect on blood glucose, body weight, cholesterol and triglycerides in “low-dose streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.”

Co-author of the study, pharmacist Dr Ginpreet Kaur, who has a long-standing interest in metabolic syndrome — one of the most significant health problems among populations in advanced and developing economies — stated that CPQ “significantly decreases glucose transport, causing a decrease in its uptake. It is probably due to the presence of flavonoids in the combination which get attached to glucose transporters.” In the published paper, the authors soberly conclude that more work is required on CPQ “with the aim to elucidate the molecular and cellular mechanism involved with the usage of these nutraceuticals for the prevention of metabolic syndrome.”

Tumeric root. Flickr/Steenbergs

The popular press in the U.K., however, felt under no obligation to go along with the conventionally restrained language of the scientists in India. Under the headline “Fight the menace of obesity and diabetes… with turmeric” the Daily Mail suggested “if you wish to get rid of those extra kilos or are desperate to control your diabetes and cholesterol, then head straight to your kitchen spice cabinet.” It was only towards the end of the article on the “miracle in the kitchen” that a note of caution was sounded: “Medicinal properties of curcumin cannot be fully utilised due to its limited bioavailability in the body. To be effective as medicine, one would have to consume several spoonfuls of turmeric in one dose.”

Turmeric, a member of the ginger family, is cultivated widely throughout the tropics. It grows to around 90 centimetres (3 feet) in height. Most of the world’s supply of the herb originates in India, where in addition to its culinary and medicinal uses, it is also employed in Hindu wedding ceremonies and other religious rituals.

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