Turmeric: My Favorite Spice that Gave My Dog Some Life

                  How Turmeric Helped My Dog

One of the interesting things as a physician is that although my patients look to me for advice, guidance, and knowledge, within my own family I am just Dad and with that comes a disbelief in my professional acumen.  Well, the time I remember that changing the most in my kids’ and wife’s eyes was the day I helped our 12 year old Lab named Darma. 
She was a sweet family dog who helped raise our kids but now was riddled with arthritis so that even a walk down the street was difficult for her. I had just come back from my week in Arizona for my fellowship in Integrative Medicine and had learned about the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric, so I thought why not see if it will help Darma.  I bought some organic turmeric spice, and combined it with some omega 3 rich oil and black pepper and mixed it with her usual food.  The first time I served it to her, she looked up from her bowl in suspicion, but as with most labs, she never walked away from food so it went down without a problem.  This became our daily routine for which I was mocked in the house for practicing “voodoo” on the dog. But guess what? In about 2 weeks, she was significantly better.
Almost like from the movie Cocoon she had a little spring to her step and now and she could walk 1-2 miles as opposed to 1 block.  Finally my knowledge and training meant something in the Lane family and we started adding turmeric to everything!

Health Benefits of Turmeric

So why did this help Darma and what is all the fuss about turmeric?  As it turns out, turmeric is one of the most potent anti-inflammatory compounds known on earth.  It is one of the main spices in curry and mustard and is widely used in Indian cuisine.  In fact, some people have theorized that the lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s in India may be related to their increased turmeric consumption.
The active compound in turmeric is curcumin and based on studies in vitro and on animals it appears to be anti-inflammatory, anti-neoplastic, and an anti-oxidant.  Since so many of our medical diseases are linked to inflammation, it is not a surprise that curcumin has been included in a wide number of clinical trials.  There have been positive results in studies on inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and colon cancer prevention, but a recent study on diabetes prevention has particularly interested me (Chuengsamarn S, et al.  Curcumin extract for prevention of type 2 diabetes.  Diab Care 2012; Jul 6.).
In a major medical center in Thailand they enrolled 237 subjects with pre-diabetes in a 12-month, randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled cohort trial to compare the effects of a 3 placebo pills vs. 3 curcumin extract pills taken twice daily.  After 9 months of the trial, no participants taking the curcumin developed diabetes, but 16.4% of the control group taking the placebo did go on to become diabetic.  Although larger studies need to be done, I still thought this was an amazing preliminary result with potentially large health ramifications for our country that is struggling with a diabetes epidemic.

Possible Contraindications to Taking Turmeric

As with anything, there are possible side effects but overall turmeric is very well tolerated even at high doses.  Those with gall stones or bile duct obstruction should avoid turmeric as it has been shown to contract the gall bladder and it is not recommended in supplement form for those with gastric ulcers or who are pregnant.  Also, if you are taking any blood thinners you must discuss taking turmeric with your health care provider so safety for you can be determined and monitored appropriately.

How to Take Turmeric

Now, you may wonder why I put black pepper and oil with the turmeric in Darma’s food.  Many people do not realize that turmeric (curcumin) will not be significantly absorbed from your intestine without some type of fat (i.e. why the omega 3 oil was used) and piperine which comes from black pepper.  In fact, in some studies piperine enhanced absorption by as much as a 1000%!
If you are using the turmeric for intestinal purposes then take it on an empty stomach with no black pepper (or piperine free supplement) so that its anti-inflammatory effects occur in the intestinal lining and not in the blood stream.
Since I am a big believer in using food to help enhance your body’s natural healing potential don’t be shy about incorporating the turmeric spice into your cooking.  It does add a yellow color to your foods but it has minimal taste and you can feel good about the health benefits it is adding to your meal.  People always ask me how much black pepper to add to the food. The honest answer is that I am not sure there is a scientifically tested amount, so I always just add the pepper to taste so I enjoy the food. Hopefully, like my loyal canine friend Darma, you too will notice a little spring in your step in no time.

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