Spice Medicine
Majid Ali, M.D.



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Spices have comprised the major part of the indigenous pharmacopeia — "spice medicine" seems to be a suitable name for it — throughout history in all parts of the world. Among practitioners of that art, the ancient Indians and Chinese were the most advanced. The hill that separated India and China never fully prevented discourse among the peoples of those lands. Indeed, the most highly recommended and most commonly prescribed spices (as well as plant-based remedies) in Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine are the same. Furthermore, Greco-Roman medicine was essentially based on the two older systems of India and China. 

The Arab pharmacopeia during the age of the Arab glory was essentially "Indian-Chinese-Greek" medicine integrated with other plant-derived phytofactors. Thus, Arab medicine during the ninth through twelfth centuries A.D. was spice medicine as well. Interestingly, spices (along with silk) are what lured the Europeans to India. Vasco da Gama (1460-1524), a Portuguese explorer, discovered an ocean route from Portugal to the East. He rounded Africa's Cape of Good Hope on November 22,1497 and reached Calicut (modern Calcutta), India on May 20, 1498. (He fought with Arab traders as well the Indians, using extreme torture, when he could, to establish his superiority over the natives. Vasco da Gama and his patron, King Manuel I of Portugal, were as interested in the spices of the East as they were in the silk. Accordingly, the journey of Christopher Columbus to the Americas, of course, was simply another trip made to satiate the European feeding frenzy on spices and silk — with an eye for future colonization. (I wonder how the celebrated French cuisine might taste today had it not been for those fabled spices from the East. Most likely it would be what English cuisine is today.) 

Then the dark century of medicine arrived when the chemical drug industry used unenlightened disease doctors of drug medicine as their tools for suppression of natural therapies. Those control-crazed pseudoscietists of medicine dismissed all empirically-validated remedies as unscientific. There is a sharp contrast between synthetic blockade medicine — drugs that block cell membrane receptors, channels, pumps, and molecules of healing responses — and phytofactors and nutrients that facilitate healing responses in integrative ways. Blocker drugs work fast but cause long-term problems of the blockade of essential cellular functions. Natural remedies, by contrast, work slowly but restore crucial cellular functions. Why don't the pseudoscientists in medicine understand something that simple? Perhaps because they are not paid by their paymasters at drug companies to think. Fortunately there is a change taking place. The community of physicians is beginning to see through the phony expertise of those pseudoscientists of medicine, and is recognizing the anti- inflammatory, 
bowel-restorative, blood-cleansing, and liver-detoxifying characteristics of many spices. There is an explosion of studies that are delineating the biologic benefits of the various components of spices with advanced analytic technology, as I show in other articles of this series.

Why bring oxygen into discussions about the medicinal benefits of on spices? Succinctly stated, what prevents unregulated inflammation restores oxygen homeostasis which, in my opinion, is the final goal in all healing work. In that sense, all spices with anti-inflammatory benefits contribute to the correction of the oxygen disorder (the dysox state) and the restoration of oxygen homeostasis. However, there is another crucial issue here: I do not consider spice therapies to be complete treatment for any of the so-called inflammatory disorders — colitis, arthritis, vasculitis, thyroiditis, asthma, nephritis, eczema, and others. At the bioenergetic cellular level, all inflammatory, autoimmune, and neurodegenerative disorders are caused by the oxygen disorder (dysfunctional oxygen utilization) caused by cellular toxicity in the cells. In that light, I consider it a serious clinical error not to add relevant direct and indirect oxygen therapies to spice therapies as components of all integrative treatment plans. 

A friend recently insisted that turmeric is an excellent anti-inflammatory but garlic is not. He also asserted that garlic is an effective antiviral food while turmeric is not. I wondered what might be the basis of those statements. In my clinical work among patients with the common cold, I find that turmeric — one- half teaspoon taken with organic vegetable juice or grapefruit juice three times a day — is far more effective than garlic. Putting that aside, my friend's assertions raise a deeper question: Can the antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects of spices ever be seperated with confidence? What is antiviral, by definition, is anti-inflammatory. What is anti-inflammatory is also antiviral when seen through the prism of oxygen homeostasis. Stated another way, every pre-existing non-physiological inflammatory process increases the pathogenicity of viruses, and every existing viral infection feeds the pathologic inflammatory response. (See the article entitled "The Dysox Model of Inflammation" on www.majidali.com and Integrative Immunology, the fourth volume of The Principles and Practice of Integrative Medicine for further discussion of this subject.) 

All spices (and herbs) with empirically known benefits for digestive- absorptive disorders also have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects. That is easy to understand since pathological (but not physiologic) inflammation and infectious processes feed upon each other. Again, the issue of dysfunctional oxygen metabolism (the dysox state) is equally important in the treatment of both types of clinical problems. 

Principles of Spice Medicine 
In closing this first of my series of article on the spice medicine and oxygen, I briefly state the following important aspects of such therapies that may be considered the principles of spice medicine:

1. Mono-spice therapy in large doses but for short periods of time can be very effective for acute conditions. To cite one example, large doses of ginger are often helpful in controlling motion sickness and pregnancy- related nausea. However, continuous mono-spice therapy for extended periods of time should be avoided. 

2. Poly-spice therapy — the concurrent use of spices with empirically- recognized complementary roles — is generally more beneficial for controlling acute infectious and inflammatory processes. For instance, turmeric, ginger, garlic, and cayenne (when tolerated well) can be combined for better results.

3. For chronic inflammatory and infectious disorders, mono-spice therapy should be avoided. Poly-spice therapy for such disorders yields superior results when combined with direct oxystatic therapies, such as hygrogen peroxide foot soaks (done with one part 3% peroxide and 30 parts of water with a pich of salt added).

Turmeric, Ginger, and Inflammation
Spice Medicine and Oxygen - PART II 

In my experience, turmeric and ginger are the safest and most potent anti-inflammatory spices. Both spices are also quite inexpensive if purchased properly (cost comparisons are included in this article) . In the first part of this series, I mentioned that in my clinical work with patients with the common cold, I find turmeric — one-half teaspoon taken with vegetable or grapefruit juice three times a day — more effective than other spice remedies. Turmeric, as well as ginger, are my highest priorities in the care of people with anti-inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. 

My interest in tumeric was aroused some decades ago when one day I absent-mindedly asked my wife why she uses turmeric when cooking her curries. "Because they last longer with it than without it," she had replied in a matter-of-fact way. Intrigued by that comment, I conducted some experiments with very weak solutions of tumeric. I found out that extremely weak solutions of that spice added to freshly prepared smears of blood of chronically ill patients can break up plasma and blood clots. Comparative experiments conducted with a weak solution of ginger yielded similar results. In earlier published studies, I had reported similar observations made with weak solutions of vitamins C and E, as well as taurine, an antioxidant.

Both turmeric and ginger are highly regarded by hakims (naturopathic physicians) in Pakistan. Of course, both spices have been used for the treatment of cancer (and many inflammatory and degenerative disorders) in Ayurveda and in traditional Chinese medicine since antiquity. My colleagues at the Institute and I have validated the empirical findings of the ancients concerning the effectiveness of those two remedies in many clinical disorders. In November 2005, I came across a paper written by the distinguished professor Bharat B. Aggarwal and his colleagues at the Cytokine Research Laboratory of The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. They reported that curcumin — an active ingredient of turmeric — exerts its beneficial effects by changing the activities of a broad range of biologic mediators of inflammatory and healing responses.* The important bioactive substances in turmeric and ginger include those involved with: 

1. Oxygen homeostasis;
2. The death of cancer cells by a process called apoptosis; 
3. Enzymes of crucial importance in the immune system; 
4. The metabolism of essential fatty acids; and
5. Various other healing responses. 

During an interview with Professor Aggarwal on my program entitled "Science, Health, and Healing" on WBAI radio, New York (heard on-line at noon on Mondays and Tuesdays at www.wbai.org) on January 2006, I learned that turmeric is now being used in clinical trials at the M.D. Anderson Center for multiple myeloma and cancer of various organs, including those of the breast, lung, and colon. I present some salient aspects of the clotting and unclotting factors of interest in the treatment of cancer in detail in my book The Crab, Oxygen, and Cancer and in an article entitled "Cancerization/De-Cancerization Conflicts."


Fresh ginger is sold in grocery stores is recognized as the beige-colored and knotted underground stem (rhizome) of the plant Zingiber officinale. It is a native plant in Asia where it has been used as a culinary spice for nearly 5,000 years. Like turmeric, ginger has a long history of medicinal uses in the ancient Asian medical traditions for treating a host of disorders, including gastrointestinal disorders (nausea, digestive-absorptive disorders, diarrhea, motion sickness, nausea of pregnancy, and others), arthritis, heart disease, headache, and chronic infections. All those disorders are now recognized as inflammatory in nature (See my book Integrative Immunology, the fourth volume of The Principles and Practice of Integrative Medicine.) In practice, ginger remedies are used as extracts, tinctures, and oils (and now in capsules). At present ginger is found in a variety of beverages and foods, including ginger water, ginger ale, ginger bread, ginger snaps, and ginger sticks. Gingerol is a well-characterized bioactive ingredient of ginger.

Cost Issues

It pays to be aware of the cost of packaging. I did not realize the enormous differences in the cost of various packaged spices. That changed when I checked the prices of the turmeric and ginger bought at grocery stores against those purchased in capsule form from health food stores. Below, I present what I discovered: 


Turmeric powder 200-grams box for $1.50
400-grams bottle for $2.50
Turmeric caps $24 for 120 caps (450 mg in a capsule)

For the suggested daily dose of 1/2 tsp twice daily (total dose 4,000 mg) , the powder cost me 6 cents, whereas an equivalent amount of the spice purchased as capsules from a health food store cost $2.40.


Ginger root $2.85 per pound from a grocery store 
Ginger caps $ 8.00 for 100 caps (500 mg) from a health food store

For the suggested daily dose of 1/2 tsp twice daily, ginger root cost me 2 cents, whereas an equivalent amount of the spice purchased as capsules from a health food store cost 64 cents.

I might point out here that not all valuable nutrient factors can be used in their raw form. Let us take for example of the intake of vitamin C via oranges. A 100-gram orange contains 53 mg of vitamin C but it also contains 10.6 grams of sugar. Thus, taking 530 mg of vitamin C by eating oranges will also bring in 106 grams of 
sugar. That amount of sugar is a totally unacceptable load of sugar regardless of any clinical benefits of 530 mg of vitamin C might have for any given person.

I close this article by re-stating what I said in the first article of thise series: Spices should not be taken in therapeutic doses daily for extended periods of time. Thus, a weekly rotation of turmeric and ginger in the recommended doses is appropriate as a general guideline. Both spices, of course, can be taken concurrently for up to four weeks for acute inflammatory and infectious processes.

*Including transcription factors (e.g., NF-kappaB, AP-1, Egr-1, beta-catenin, and PPAR-gamma), enzymes (e.g., COX2, 5-LOX, iNOS, and hemeoxygenase-1), cell cycle proteins (e.g., cyclin D1 and p21), cytokines (e.g., TNF, IL-1, IL-6, and chemokines), receptors (e.g., EGFR and HER2), and cell surface adhesion molecules.



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