Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I HEART CURRY (and the brain benefits of Turmeric!)

It was brought to my attention while I was slaving in the kitchen cooking my first Curry, that “Turmeric is good for your brain”. Wow! I know science, doctors, surgeries, scans, tests and more tests could be helpful in fixing F’ed up brains, but could my little Curry recipe help as well?

As everyone knows (from my two blog posts which both happen to be cooking and recipe related- humm) I love to cook! I cook for Brian and I, but cooking for a crowd & entertaining is even more fun! Last week I decided to take the plunge into international waters and test of my first home made curry- from scratch I might add.

I will have to admit it was a little more involved that I had originally anticipated. Step One: Make the Curry Sauce, then add the other sauce ingredients & Turmeric, plus don’t forget to marinate the chicken tikka, (ooops). But in the end after making 3 different pages of recipes for one dish- it finally made it onto the plate at 9pm! (Thanks for your patience boys). I am proud to report; all of my dinner party guests were a part of the clean plate club . . . after their second helping of course.

Post dinner conversation, I was very intrigued on the health benefits of the Turmeric I had just added in my curry and why it was good for the brain. Can we include things in our diet to prevent future disease and promote brain health?

Turmeric derived from the plant Curcuma longa, is a gold colored culinary spice, a major ingredient in Indian curries, the source of American mustard's bright yellow color and a relative of ginger (I learn something new every day). Curcumin, which gives the yellow color to turmeric, was first isolated almost two centuries ago, and its structure as diferuloylmethane was determined in 1910. Since the time of 1900 BC, numerous therapeutic activities have been assigned to turmeric. Curcumin exhibits activities similar to recently discovered tumor necrosis factor blockers - which is just what we are looking for! Tumor Blockers for that puncus uncus! Evidence suggests this spice is a promising preventive agent for a wide range of diseases, probably due largely to its anti-inflammatory properties. After my little research session, the bottom line is that the advantages of turmeric (and more specifically Curcumin) are too numerous to list! An overview published in Advanced Experimental Medical Biology in 2007 states that, "Curcumin has been shown to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities and thus has a potential against various malignant diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease and other chronic illnesses." That is the most “anti” ingredient I have ever used in my kitchen!

Looks like I will be making lots more Indian Curries in my lifetime. They promote “anti” everything! Did my little Curry recipe help us build better brain health? I think so.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Spring! A season for learning new languages…

I recently started the last term of my first year of medical school. Our new course directors reminded us of two medical school analogies:
1) Medical school is similar to drinking from a fire hose. The material in essence is not the difficulty; it is the rate at which we have to learn the material.
2) Medical school entails learning new languages. In other words, we are barraged with not only new information but words we have never heard before and have no idea how to pronounce.

I am finding the course directors credible. In three weeks and in only one course (neuroscience), we have learned about generating and propagating action potentials, what happens at the synapses, the topographic anatomy of the brain and spinal cord, the vasculature of the brain, the blood brain barrier and how the brain makes cerebral spinal fluid, the morphogenesis of the brain, the organization of the brainstem, glial biology, how the somatosensory system works and audition. Ummmm…what was that you ask? Yes, spring has arrived and it is my season for learning new languages and new information! So, while I learn about the telencephalon, funiculi, and sensory homunculus, I thought I would share a few interesting tidbits with you:

• Did you know the brain develops from a tube? It’s why we have spaces or “ventricles” in our brain around which lies the cerebral cortex and brainstem. Brain development starts early on for the fetus – around the third week and before one might even know she is pregnant.
• The brain weighs around three pounds yet receives almost 20% of total cardiac output. One fifth of the blood that our heart pumps goes to the brain!
• We have around 1,000,000,000,000 neurons in our brain and each one can communicate with multiple other neurons so that the information it sends on is the sum of many inputs. Our brain is complex!
• We have cells in our inner ears called outer hair cells that change their lengths based on electrical signals generated originally by sound and protect our ears from damage. Check out this video (and yes – this is the cell dancing to music)!

As spring announces itself, I hope you all enjoy lots of time outdoors and take advantage of the vegetables coming into season. After all, we can’t forget to nourish our brains and bodies! Check out our friend Kristin McCurdy’s new food blog at Not only does she have an outdoor mindset, but she also is a kick-butt chef who has spent years getting dirty on organic farms. No one can make salads like her (yeah – delicious and she has yet to bring the same salad to a dinner I have been to with her). Kristin posts other recipes too (and when our classmate Brooks brings leftovers to class, we all salivate).

Here’s to spring and nourishing our minds and bodies with good food, the outdoors and new languages!