The Spice of Life

The Reagan Administration really was the “golden era” of true professionalism in government health initiatives. We had real health professionals in the Department of Health and Human Services. Not just career government bureaucrats. The Secretary of Health was an accomplished physician and like President Reagan himself, had served as a successful governor. The Undersecretary was a highly successful pharmacist. And of course, the Surgeon General—C. Everett Koop—was actually a world-famous surgeon.

And during the 1980’s and early 1990’s I had the honor of working on public health projects with Dr. Koop (who had also been my professor of surgery at Penn medical school in Philadelphia). Back then, we managed to get some good things done. And we held to a professional standard of medical science—whether or not it was “politically correct.”

When Dr. Koop first “retired” in 1989, he agreed to become the chairman of a private foundation we had formed. The foundation’s goal was to support a unique and innovative vision for public health education—a national museum of health and medicine.

This project would include an initiative to return the remnants of a great historic medical collection back to the National Mall in Washington. It had served millions there from 1888-1968. But in 1968 it was moved to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where it reached an obscure and sorry state. (This scandalous move occurred at the hands of Lyndon and “Lady Bird” Johnson, to make way for a “modern art” museum from a notorious Canadian collector that the Canadian government itself had been smart enough to reject!).

One of the people that came highly recommended to serve on the new museum foundation board was a senior corporate science officer at McCormick Spices in Baltimore, MD. But I’m not sure how much “science” was really going on there at McCormick at the time. Because when I mentioned he should research the levels of antioxidants in their spices, he looked at me like I was from Mars.

Spices, he insisted, are strictly “flavoring agents.”

Well, I can’t deny that they do add a tremendous amount of flavor and savor to foods. But that hardly sums up their full potential.

In fact, spices were always central to human history and commerce because of their anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties! Thus, making food safe AND healthy. In fact, many of the justly famous “McCormick spices” are actually ancient herbal remedies from India, China, and Southeast Asia, and the storied “Spice Islands” of mercantile trade.

I lost track of that particular scientist a long time ago. And McCormick must have gotten a new research department somewhere along the line. Because two decades later, it seems they finally “discovered” that spices do much more than simply add flavor to food. Now, you can barely turn on the television without catching advertising about the antioxidant benefits of spices.

And I’ve mentioned the tremendous potential of one spice in particular—turmeric—in my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. Turmeric is one of the primary spices in Indian curry. But it also contains a substance called curcumin. And recent research has shown some very impressive benefits associated with curcumin.

Not only does it have tremendous antioxidant properties, but curcumin also works therapeutically. Research shows it can alleviate arthritis pain better and more safely than prescription drugs. And other studies have pointed to its role in fighting various types of cancer.

I’ll continue to cover the benefits of spices here in the Daily Dispatch and in my Insiders’ Cures newsletter as more new research becomes available. In the meantime, take a few minutes to look inside your spice drawer—and toss anything that’s been there for more than a year or two. Not only do spices lose their flavor over time, but their potential health benefits diminish as well. Or you can opt for a supplement version of a particular spice.