Healing with Your Spice Rack? (You Should Call the Doctor)
Author: Brooke van Dyk
Quick! Little Timmy cut his leg open! To the… spice rack?
Despite what you might have read online (or heard from your aging grandma), spices are not usually a suitable alternative to modern medical treatments. Sure, they're practically required for making your cooking less awful, but for anything that poses a significant health risk, medical treatment should be left to the pros.
That said, organic spices are a pretty great source of preventative medicine. There have been a massive number of studies validating the effectiveness of organic spices for reducing blood sugar, helping with inflammation, and improving digestion. So, maybe you should listen to your grandma when she tries to feed you spoonfuls of ginger after a night on the town…
It seems like there are some real benefits to using spices for more than their flavour. They've certainly been used medically for seemingly the entirety of human civilization. And sometimes they even worked!
Some cultures still include spices into their traditional medical regimes. Most notably, Ayurvedic medicine incorporates a number of organic spices into their definition of a healthy lifestyle. But, with modern medicine having advanced past rub some spices on it, it's essential to differentiate between when you should reach for the turmeric and when you should go for the prescription bottle instead. (Hint: if you have a prescription bottle, there's your answer).
Massages in the Name of Health: Ayurvedic Medicine
Long before doctors were stabbing patients (...with needles…), there was Ayurvedic medicine. Originating in India, Ayurveda is more than a system of medicine. It's a whole way of life. The practise focuses on living your best life through a combination of healthy eating and physical pursuits such as massages, yoga, and meditation. (Sorry, folks, you can't just pick massages and call it a day.) This preventative lifestyle aims to reduce illnesses by reducing all of the fun things in life and forcing you to be healthy every day.
One of the cornerstone components of Ayurvedic medicine is the use of organic herbs and spices. Cumin, turmeric, and cardamom are all commonly used to maintain physical and spiritual balance. So, throw some cumin into your fudge and call it a healthy snack!
Ayurvedic medicine is still practised in India today. It's started to spread around the world, bringing good vibes and healthier lifestyles to every corner of the map. For active yoga practitioners, mindful meditators, and sophisticated spice enthusiasts alike, Ayurvedic medicine is a manageable lifestyle change that can make a difference in your health and overall mindset. And, even if you decide it's not for you, you'll at least have gotten to eat some delicious curry.
A Spoonful of Spice Helps the Medicine Go Down
It turns out that there's a good reason to listen to your elders. They have the best recipes and the most amusing anecdotes about life before the internet. They also got some stuff right about the other uses for your kitchen's spice rack. (Just don't tell them that - or you'll never hear the end of it!). Scientists put on their fancy white coats and did some taste tests - er, science experiments - and found some validity behind the ancient claims that spices can work as medication.
Organic turmeric, organic cinnamon, and organic ginger have all passed intense scientific scrutiny and can be considered to have some serious health properties. (Seriously, though. We can't stress this enough. Spices won't cure your anything better than your doctor can.) Here's a breakdown of what the scientists have been looking into:
Organic Cinnamon & Blood Sugar
With the holidays on the way, there's never been a better time to whip up some cinnamon rolls. Of course, if you're looking to use organic cinnamon to help reduce and modulate blood sugar, stuffing your face with the delicious treats might be a tad counterproductive. So how does it work?
Organic cinnamon has been linked to reducing your body's resistance to insulin absorption. Since insulin works by moving blood sugar out of your blood and storing it in your cells, a decreased insulin resistance means that your body can absorb the sugar in your blood more readily. This is especially helpful for those with type two diabetes, who often struggle with insulin resistance.
Of course, the results aren't totally conclusive. While the evidence is mounting that organic cinnamon can be used to help with blood sugar, you're still better off reducing your actual sugar intake or (and?) using your prescribed insulin.
Organic Ginger & Nausea
If you've ever been pregnant (or know someone who's been pregnant), you'll know the second thing out of everyone's mouth is "Have you tried ginger for the morning sickness?" Inundated with this advice and desperate to keep something other than crackers down, moms-to-be across the globe turn to ginger candies, ginger supplements, and anything else that might contain ginger. College students may also appreciate some ginger hot chocolate over whatever raw egg hangover cure their roommate comes up with.
Like many spices, organic ginger has been used throughout history as a medical compound. Recently, ginger has been studied in an effort to confirm its supposed antiemetic properties. Unlike organic cinnamon, all available evidence suggests that ginger is an effective anti-nausea treatment. We still don't recommend that you skip your prescribed antiemetics, though. (Are you sensing a theme yet?)
Organic Turmeric &... Everything?!
Turn up for turmeric! This versatile spice is great in a whole pile of dishes - and for preventing or supplementing treatment for an equally large pile of illnesses. A staple of savoury curries and crockpot recipes, organic turmeric has recently shown its boundless versatility in the realm of medical treatments. Move over, garlic - organic turmeric is taking over as the new super-spice!
Some of the most significant effect sizes have surrounded turmeric's active compound, curcumin. Curcumin has been shown to have preventative medical benefits for conditions like heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's. While the level of effectiveness varies across disorders, organic turmeric nevertheless is a powerful health additive to any meal. It's a great supplement to your regular medication - once your doctor signs off that you won't spontaneously grow a third arm or start glowing.
So… Cumin or Chemo?
While delicious, spices should never replace your regular healthcare regime. There's plenty of research that backs up the benefits of organic spices for scores of physical and flavourful reasons. But, and say it with me: please don't use cumin in lieu of chemotherapy. Your insulin is far more effective at modulating blood sugar than any amount of cloves would be. And, while black pepper should be applied liberally to all soups and stews, it won't replace your antibiotics when you cut your hand making said stew. The bottom line is that, while your spice rack may have benefits beyond delicious cooking, it’s never an alternative for seeking medical attention.