Dr. Aggarwal recently wrote "Healing Spices," an awesome resource of the science behind various spices we use in cooking. Here's what one reviewer says about the book on Amazon.com:
"This book is brimming over with real information backed up with reasearch into the benefits of spices for healing and maintaining health. It is presented in a digestable format and made accessable with fantastic recipes and resource connections. As an Ayurvedic Lifestyle consultant I am familiar with the benefits spices bring both in terms of taste and improving digestion. This book supports this view and offers so much more. It's time America, let's spice it up to get really healthy." Below is our interview on October 4, 2011.
What gave you the idea to write ‘Healing Spices’?
It’s very simple. If you remember, I mentioned to you [when we met last winter] that we discovered TNF-alpha and beta. It turned out that they are major mediators of inflammation, which is implicated in a lot of chronic disease as we are learning now. And after this discovery, we began to search for anti-inflammatory agents that block either production or action of TNF. That’s when we discovered that the active constituents from spices exhibit anti-inflammatory activity, right here at MD Anderson. So the book is a culmination of my work and that of many, many other people.
Yes. This is nothing new, it has been known for a long time. Look, if you look at prostate cancer, there are about 124.6 people in the US out of 100,000 that come down with prostate cancer. But only 4.4 people in India out of 100,000 do. Why is that? I think it’s because of overall lifestyle. Spices are an important part of that lifestyle.
It is the anti-inflammatory lifestyle, and Indians have been living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle that helps keep the rates of many cancers low. The exception is oral cancer as men in India not only smoke but chew on a lot of tobacco. But look at incidence of breast, colon, or prostate, or even lung cancer – which are the most common cancers in the Western World – but in India they are significantly low.
Of course, these rates are going up even in the India because people there are becoming more and more Westernized. Westernization – the Western lifestyle – promotes cancer. That’s why we are organizing this conference to show people that cancer is primarily a disease of lifestyle, and that it requires a change in lifestyle to prevent them.
The ex-president of MD Anderson [Dr. John Mendelsohn] will be there. We will have session on tobacco and cancer, alcohol and cancer, meat and cancer, infectious disease and cancer. Bottom line is this: if we have a major breakthrough in cancer, it will be not through a pill but lifestyle changes. A pill has not helped us, it will not help us. I think it is the wrong road, and people have to think outside the box now.
For example, the Dr. Ralph M. Steinman, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine this year helped invent a cancer vaccine. He actually discovered the role of dendritic cells, which stimulate the immune system to make antibodies. And he used this knowledge to develop a cancer vaccine. And then he took his vaccine when he developed cancer, and unfortunately he still died. So these remedies have not been shown to work.
Your work is to show how curcumin and other bioactive compounds are anti-inflammatory. You believe they will be used to treat cancer in the near-future?
No. I do not think so. The reason for that is because there is no money to be made. Nobody believes that what is free or cheap could be a potential cure, or even good for you. You must be willing to give up something. If you think you can eat hamburger and pop a pill and your cancer will go away – but it hasn’t happened.
The nation is going bankrupt with the healthcare budget. This deficit is getting worse before getting better, and we need to think outside the box. America is the most affluent place in the world, but no place has more cancer in the world, and no place has more obesity in the world. But every place is becoming affluent around the world, and the belief is that in 20 years cancer incidence is expected double and most of this increase is going to come from countries like India and China. So it is more important now than before that we understand our lifestyle has huge influence on our health.
Is there a particular mix of spices you like?
You have to remember I am a scientist, and we have published over 600 papers. I believe in evidence. We believe in evidence-based medicine. If you take 50 different spices, well, for me to make any kind of qualified statement I need evidence. I can be very confident when I make statements on what turmeric does.
But I have no evidence for the other spices, though they might work. One can mix spices for taste, or for the aroma, but whether other spices exhibit the same high efficacy as an anti-inflammatory agent, yet to be validated. I have no doubt about turmeric, and with over 5,000 publications behind it I am confident that turmeric can help prevent and even treat many diseases.
Importantly, turmeric is not toxic even at high doses. You are a medical doctor. Tell me, how many drugs are there that you can say have no side effects? Even aspirin, discovered 100 years ago, can give people bleeding ulcers.
Bottom line is that I always have turmeric in any mix of spices I use for food. One of the first papers published on turmeric, was in Nature, showed it to be anti-bacterial. More studies showed it to be anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory. And nobody can find a dose of turmeric that is toxic. The FDA has done its own studies, and they have no concern about turmeric. Safety is not an issue.
Any drug is judged based on safety and efficacious, as required by the FDA. Turmeric is safe, and effective. The list goes on and on. And you can buy one kilo of turmeric for a dollar. So it’s not expensive. Someone has to educate me if turmeric has any downside. I see no downside. It is just a matter of time until more people discover the benefits of turmeric as part of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.