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Spice up your life—part 2

Proof at last –men are from Mars!

OPINION

 

Welcome to the Chiang Mai Mail’s Femail page! This week, at least, we’ve got some space back… Troubled times seem to continue, political unrest is still an issue, and the rainy season’s behaving very oddly. Too much rain, not enough season. Don’t know about your garden, but I’m having to ask mine’s permission to get through the front gate, it’s grown so much! Don’t worry, it’s not global warming, it’s probably La Nina.
One thing we must mention, which concerns us all. Khoon Boong, the president of Chiang Mai Friends, recently expressed her concern to this writer about some of the “suggestion” and “complaint” letters that were being sent to our Lady Mayor for inclusion in her monthly talk with Chiang Mai residents. It would seem that suggestions and complaints in a few of these letters are being expressed in—how can we put this—inappropriate and occasionally Anglo-Saxon terms. Not good, guys. Not that we suspect that it’s us females who are responsible… Seriously, though, we expats to tend to be regarded as a group, rather than as individuals, and it’s quite possible that we may all be tarred with the same brush. This type of unnecessary and impolite way of expressing one’s self is not appreciated in what is a very “polite” society, its effect will be to alienate and distance—it will not make the intended point in any way. Our Mayor, and the people who work with her, are doing as much as they can for the city as fast as they can, and are demonstrating a real commitment to the very necessary goal of integration between foreigners and Thais; lets, please, all of us, treat them with the respect they deserve and not give them the wrong impression of the expat community.

Spice up your life—part 2

Of course, spice cures have been used worldwide for centuries, but it’s good to know that present-day medical researchers are re-discovering that spices can ease inflammation, activate the immune system, kill bacteria and viruses and even cause cancer cells to self-destruct. Although most studies are preliminary, some research suggests that compounds in spices might help fight everything from Alzheimer’s disease and cancer to depression and diabetes. Here’s the second overview of the potential medicines lurking in your spice rack.
Turmeric—known colloquially as Asia’s aspirin and used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to heal wounds and treat inflammatory illnesses such as arthritis—is familiar to everyone who enjoys Indian curries. A lesser-known fact about the bright yellow-orange powder is that it may pack more healing power than any other spice. Made from the powdered root of a tropical plant closely related to ginger, turmeric contains curcumin, a compound that is both a powerful anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. It’s also non-toxic.
Today, scientists are finding tantalizing clues that suggest curcumin might help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. Investigators at the University of California at Los Angeles, studying a mouse model of Alzheimer’s, reported that the brains of animals fed curcumin had up to 80 per cent fewer of the protein plaques associated with the disease than those of mice given a normal diet. The abnormal clumping of proteins in the plaques is thought to cause Alzheimer’s. Teams at UCLA, Harvard and in Japan subsequently discovered that curcumin might fight Alzheimer’s in several ways. First, curcumin forms a powerful bond with the amyloidal beta protein associated with Alzheimer’s that prevents the protein from clumping into plaques in the brain. Second, this bonding capacity enables curcumin to dissolve these plaques.
Third, curcumin reduces oxidative damage and brain inflammation that contribute to the disease process.
It’s still too soon to know whether curcumin can prevent or treat Alzheimer’s in humans, says Sally Frautschy of UCLA’s Alzheimer’s Research Lab, where many of the studies are being carried out. “The animal models are not precise models of Alzheimer’s, so these studies need to be replicated in humans,” she says. Frautschy adds that a UCLA team led by John Ringman and Jeffrey Cummings has just completed a pilot clinical trial and researchers are now analyzing results.
Another challenge is finding a form of curcumin that’s absorbed by the body, because it doesn’t readily dissolve in water. Still, people in India have been getting their curcumin for centuries by cooking turmeric in ghee (clarified butter), which, like any fat, enables this compound to be absorbed. Indians also have some of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease ever reported, according to a 2001 study led by Vijay Chandra of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Could India’s low Alzheimer’s rate simply be a matter of genetics?
Genes may well play a role, but research by Tze-Pin Ng and colleagues at the National University of Singapore also points to a diet rich in turmeric. A study of 1,010 people over age 60 who had no dementia found that those who ate curry “occasionally” and “often or very often” scored higher on mental performance tests than those who rarely or never consumed it. Ng, whose study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2006, also notes that the most typical curry in Singapore is the turmeric-laden yellow curry.
Evidence is mounting that curcumin may help fight many cancers, says Bharat Aggarwal, a professor of cancer medicine at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. In addition to reporting that curcumin blocks most of the mechanisms by which prostate cancer cells survive and grow, he and his colleagues have listed nearly 40 animal studies that suggest curcumin may have a strong protective effect against common cancers, including those of the breast, colon, lung, prostate and skin.” The potential is unlimited,” says Aggarwal, who notes that small clinical studies are underway to investigate curcumin in treating colorectal cancer and multiple myeloma. “Curcumin suppresses most of the biochemical pathways that lead to inflammation — and up to 98 percent of all illnesses are due to the dysregulation of inflammation.” Research has shown that curcumin is likely to block a molecular “master switch” responsible for inflammation and many other processes, including the growth of tumor cells. Small clinical trials are also underway to give us a clearer picture of curcumin’s potential in fighting Alzheimer’s, cancer and other illnesses.
Whilst we’re waiting for results, should we start sprinkling turmeric into the pan every time we sauté onions and garlic? And, if so, how much? The mice in Frautschy’s study were fed the daily human equivalent of a gram, or about a quarter-teaspoon of turmeric. Aggarwal notes that clinical studies have found that a daily dose of up to 12 grams (about a tablespoon) a day for three months is safe. The basic rule of thumb, according to Aggarwal is that “eating turmeric is okay for every day.”
Saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, comes from the dried and powdered stigmas of Crocus sativus, a fall-blooming purple flower native to southwestern Asia and cultivated in countries including India, Spain, Greece and Iran, and has been used for millennia for everything from an aphrodisiac to a remedy for colds and stomach problems. It was also used in traditional Persian medicine to treat depression, a fact that inspired Shahin Akhondzadeh and colleagues at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences and the Institute of Medicinal Plants in Iran to test it in a modern clinical trial of 40 subjects. The researchers reported in Phytotherapy Research in 2005 that mildly and moderately depressed adults who received a daily 30-milligram capsule of saffron for six weeks experienced a significant improvement over those who were given a placebo. Further research suggests that the ancients, who used saffron to treat about 90 illnesses, may have been onto something big. A series of recent studies in animals have found that saffron extracts blocked or slowed the development of colon, skin and soft-tissue tumours.

 

Proof at last –men are from Mars!

Isn’t it amazing how many millions of dollars are being spent on researching into things that we women have known for sure for as long as we can remember!
Men’s minds, for example. Any woman who has had to deal with a traumatic situation –a road accident, child’s severe illness, a burglary, to name but a few—will remember every small detail for ever. Men, however, will only remember the gist of the occurrence, much to our annoyance as we assume that it’s not important to them.
At last, there seems to be scientific proof to back up what we’ve always known—men’s brains and ours really are as far apart as Mars and Venus! Recent research, reported in the New Scientist and elsewhere, has found that womens’ brains have a larger area programmed to deal with decision-making, emotions and even spatial navigation. Try telling that last one to your men folk when they’re driving! The male brain appear to behave exactly according to the traditional male stereotype, placing more emphasis on—yes, you’ve guessed it- SEX! No surprise there, then.
More interestingly, male and female brains use different methods to process emotion and pain, and even differing preferences for alcohol and drugs can be traced to differing brain patterns between the sexes. All this, of course, totally contradicts the traditional theory that men’s and women’s often diametrically opposed thought patterns are the result of upbringing and peer pressure. It would seem that the brain’s genetic blueprints, its basic workings, its “circuitry” and even the chemicals which stimulate responses, are fundamentally different in male and female brains, and that the size of the various areas of the brain differs as well. This could lead to the conclusion that there are two types of human brain, not one. We’ve always known, of course, that the really crucial parts of women’s brains are larger…
For example, the decision- making areas which form part of the frontal lobe are larger in female brains, as are the areas responsible for short-term memory. American researchers at the University of California discovered that men use the left side of the brain to process emotions, whilst women use the right. Cary Cooper, professor of psychology and health at Lancaster University, who specialises in gender divisions, said: ‘Men and women are polar opposites but we knew that from the start”.A very professorial comment…
The reason why this research is now providing such interesting results is that, according to the New Scientist, neuroscientists traditionally carried out their studies on male brains, be they animal or human. No surprise there, then, either! The message to us women might well be, “Don’t try to understand them, just try to understand how to live with them!”


OPINION:

Those of us who were lucky enough to attend the Nobel Laureate Women’s symposium last Monday at CMU were surprised to notice that there were not too many foreigners in the large and attentive audience In fact, although it had, we believed, been well advertised, we were only able to find out via the internet on the previous day exactly where is was to be held and between which times. The reason, of course, being that we can’t read Thai. We are pleased to be told by our Mayor that we are indeed Khon Chiang Mai—Thai organisers in the city doesn’t seem to have caught on to that or realised that many of us are interested in and concerned about attending events other than those involving, eating, drinking, playing tourist and patronising the 5 star hotels springing up like oversized mushrooms around the night market. Even the English-speaking staff on this paper, with all their contacts, don’t find out about many events that would have been of interest to the expat community until they find themselves with text to edit for publication after the event! How do we, as a community, make Thai organisers understand that we would like to be informed? How do we change the strange perception that we, as a group, don’t want to know about traditional non-tourist religious festivals, obscure and not-so obscure concerts and non- commercial but interesting events? Or maybe we should all stop whatever we’re doing and spend a long time learning to read, as well as speak, Thai!
The symposium itself was, at the very least, an eye-opener for those who do not frequently read South East Asian news websites. As it was conducted mainly in the English language, with bi-lingual translation headphones on each chair, we could all understand exactly what was being said. The women activist Nobel Laureates, together with Mai Farrow, painted a chilling picture of the lack of human rights accorded to women in Darfur, Afghanistan, Burma, China and here on the borders of Thailand. Representatives of the Lahu and Karen tribeswomen spoke about the treatment of ethnic women from minority groups- by soldiers, by some officials, and by men in general. The ex-vice president of Afghanistan spoke about similar treatment of women in Pakistan; Mia Farrow spoke about Darfur; an activist spoke about women’s plight in Burma. We were told about sweat-shop factories in China. It all sounded the same. It wasn’t about government policies, it was about men, individuals, behaving extremely badly. And we all knew about many other countries in the world where exactly the same treatment is handed out to women. Professor Jody Williams, in her final address, said this. “Women receive their human rights just by being born—we should not have to beg men for them”. That’s it.