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Curry Research

July 7, 2014 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Mrs. Healthy Fellow and I are just back from a five-week trip to London and Marrakech. The next few blogs are inspired by our recent time away from home. First stop: London. Whenever we “cross the pond” to jolly ole England we make it a point to eat some great Indian food. And, that means a visit (or two or three) to Dishoom, a Bombay inspired cafe, and Quilon, a regal dining spot which features south western Indian fare. These two delicious destinations have transformed our concept of what authentic Indian food tastes like. An important part of our personal culinary enlightenment is a newly found appreciation for curry.

The exact composition of curry powder varies. Many versions include chili powder, ground coriander, cumin, fenugreek, ginger, mustard seeds, pepper and turmeric. This is the type of curry spice blend you’re likely to find in many markets and specialty shops. There are also numerous curry pastes which can be homemade by adding fresh ingredients such as almonds, coconut and tomatoes. While the composition of curries differ based on their regional and traditional origins, the one commonality is the health benefits they possess.

In modern times, researchers have postulated that the lower incidence of certain diseases in the Indian population may be due to their consumption of medicinal spices. Turmeric, a root which imparts the yellow color to curry, was once believed to be largely or partially responsible for the noted health protection. But, this is unlikely to be the case. A 2006 study in the journal Nutrition and Cancer examined the content of curcumin, a therapeutic component of turmeric, in 28 curry powder products. The results indicate that the actual amount of curcumin was highly variable and very small. On average, even pure turmeric powder contained only 3.14% curcumin by weight. In practical terms, this indicates that the amount of curcumin present in curry spice falls far below the quantity required for therapeutic activity.

Allopathic medicine typically likes to identify an isolated chemical, such as curcumin, to explain a particular health effect. In the case of curry, nobody has yet isolated which specific ingredients are responsible for its health promoting potential. That mystery aside, more and more studies are finding medicinal properties of curry spice in controlled, scientific trials. For instance, the June 2014 issue of Nutrition Journal documents an improvement in endothelial function, a measure of cardiovascular and circulatory health, after just a single meal containing curry. Other research informs that curry intake improves pulmonary function in non-smokers and smokers alike, lowers the glycemic index of carbohydrate-rich meals and possibly reduces the risk of age-related cognitive decline and various cancers.

As enthusiastic as I am about curry, there are a few instances where it should be conditionally avoided. The medical literature describes the potential for worsening of symptoms in individuals with gastric reflux (GERD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Combining curry with fatty foods, ingredients and/or hot peppers tends to exacerbate this reaction. So, if you have either condition, proceed with caution.

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 - Curcumin Content of Turmeric and Curry Powders (link)

Study 2 - A Single Consumption of Curry Improved Postprandial Endothelial (link)

Study 3 - Curcumins-Rich Curry Diet and Pulmonary Function in Asian Older … (link)

Study 4 - Effect of Dietary Curries on the Glycaemic Index (link)

Study 5 – Curry Consumption and Cognitive Function in the Elderly (link)

Study 6 - Cancer Risk and Diet in India (link)

Study 7 - Consumption of Spicy Foods and the Prevalence of Irritable Bowel (link)

Study 8 – Curry Induces Acid Reflux and Symptoms in Gastroesophageal Reflux (link)

Study 9 - Fat, Spices and Gastro-Esophageal Reflux (link)

Study 10 - Oral Regurgitation After Reflux Provoking Meals: A Possible Cause of (link)

Cancer Rates in India vs the United States

Image 2: Source: J Postgrad Med. 2003 Jul-Sep;49(3):222-8. (link)

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3 Comments & Updates to “Curry Research”

  1. PAUL F. Says:

    Hi JP,

    It is a pleasure to discover that through your passion for your job, we your readers, reap the benefits of accessing your unbiased research even when you are visiting other countries and so we can evaluate if some of their natural medicines may be of potential application to us!

    Thank you for this service!


  2. JP Says:


    I’m truly blessed to be able to work while traveling and/or traveling for work. Sharing what I learn is a big part of the satisfaction I get from my journeys into the unknown. I am grateful for the opportunity. :-)

    Be well!


  3. JP Says:

    Update 05/13/15:


    Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2015 May-Jun; 19(3): 347–350.

    Turmeric use is associated with reduced goitrogenesis: Thyroid disorder prevalence in Pakistan (THYPAK) study

    Introduction: South Asian population has a particularly high prevalence of thyroid disorders mainly due to iodine deficiency and goitrogen use. There is no data available for prevalence of thyroid disorders in the general population living in nonmountainous regions of Pakistan.

    Materials and Methods: A total of 2335 residents of Pak Pattan, Punjab, Pakistan were interviewed about demographic, dietary, medical and environmental history as well as screened for goiter. Individuals of all ages and either gender were included.

    Results: Median age was 34 (10–88) years and 1164 (49.9%) were males. Median monthly income was 49 (3.9–137) USD. Six hundred and sixty-nine (28.7%) subjects had palpable goiter. 77.5% (n = 462) and 22.5% (n = 133) had World Health Organization Grade I and Grade II goiters respectively, further screened by measuring thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). In subjects with TSH <0.4 mg/dL, free T3 and free T4 levels were measured. In 185 goiter subjects when TSH was measured, 50% (n = 93) were euthyroid, 48% (n = 89) were hyperthyroid, and one subject each was hypothyroid and subclinically hyperthyroid. 29/89 hyperthyroid subjects underwent radionuclide scanning. Twelve subjects had heterogeneous uptake consistent with multinodular goiter, 12 subjects had diffuse uptake, two had cold nodules and two had hyperfunctioning single nodules. Goiter was significantly more common among females, unmarried individuals and individuals drinking tube well (subterranean) water. Goiter was less common among those who consumed daily milk, daily ghee (hydrogenated oil), spices, chilies, and turmeric.

    Discussion: In our study population, goiter was endemic with very high prevalence of hyperthyroidism. Turmeric use was association with reduced goitrogenesis. Further studies to assess iodine sufficiency, thiocyanate exposure and autoimmunity need to be conducted. Masses consuming high goitrogen diets should be educated to incorporate turmeric, spices and green chilies in their cooking recipes, to reduce the risk of goiter development. In addition, use of iodized salt in their daily diet cannot be overemphasized.

    Be well!


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