A spicy dish of Indian biryani and a hot dog purchased at the ball game may seem to have little in common, but both feature a liberal quantity of turmeric (Curcuma longa). In the biryani, the spice is an essential part of the curry mixture that gives the dish its distinctive zing. In the dog, turmeric is what makes the slathering of American mustard bright yellow.
The good news about this cross-cultural spice is that elderly villagers in India, who eat turmeric in their daily curries, have the world's lowest rate of Alzheimer's disease. That does not appear to be a coincidence. In a study at the University of California at Los Angeles, scientists fed curcumin, an active compound in turmeric tea, to rats prone to accumulate beta-amyloid plaque in their brains - the abnormality associated with Alzheimer's disease in humans. Curcumin blocked the plaque's accumulation. It also appeared to reduce inflammation related to Alzheimer's disease in neural tissue. The rats fed curcumin also performed better on memory tests than rats on normal diets.
Other studies have suggested turmeric has broad anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects as well. But few Americans eat enough curry to achieve these protective effects. Although Dr. Weil does not recommend daily mustard-laden hot dogs as the ideal turmeric delivery device, he found a potential solution during one of his many trips to Okinawa, the island nation with the world's longest average life span, 81.2 years.
Okinawans drink copious quantities of turmeric tea. Some brew it fresh, but others simply buy cans or powdered instant versions of unsweetened tea from their local stores.
If you would like to try it, here's a recipe. Feel free to experiment with the ingredients and flavorings until you find a combination that suits your taste:
- Bring four cups of water to a boil.
- Add one teaspoon of ground turmeric and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
- Strain the tea through a fine sieve into a cup, add honey and/or lemon to taste.
Some people like to add a teaspoon of ginger along with the turmeric. While ground versions are more convenient, it's worthwhile to experiment with freshly grated turmeric for a more vibrant flavor. These distinctive, deep-orange roots are increasingly available in American grocery and natural food stores. Enjoy!
Read other articles by Dr. Weil and explore the power of tea.
By Brad Lemley