Health,  Lifestyle

Turmeric and Black Pepper Anyone?

After much procrastination, I finally sat down and began to collate ideas about how I can inform others about my nutrition and supplement choices. Before I start, I am not a qualified nutritionist, dietician or medical doctor. I am writing about my choices, choices I have made through reading and researching, talking to people (who have also researched) as well as trial and error. These changes are not just about preventing a recurrence, it’s about having healthy eating habits, a positive mindset towards food, having energy, regular bowel movements, plenty of micronutrients and useful supplementation.

When chemotherapy ended, I suddenly felt heightened anxiety and began to really panic about my diet, was I eating the right or wrong foods. What should I be drinking, could I have my two cups of coffee, were those sweets going to feed cancer cells, should I be eating meat? These are very common questions with people after they have battled cancer as well as conscientious people in general. Oncologists and medical doctors in my experience do not give any advice about nutrition and I was told to eat a ‘normal diet’. Ultimately, it is not their area of expertise so I assume they would rather abstain from giving any advice but always check about supplements.

Nutrition can be an absolute minefield at the best of times but when you have just been through hell and back to get better, it can become an obsession. So, eventually I made an appointment with a dietician to deal with the issue head on. Over the last few months, I have learnt so much, so I have decided to break it down into several posts. The last thing I want to do is bombard you with a ton of information and put you straight back to square one. I want to share with you, simple daily routines that I have and explain why I do it. I also want to make it very clear that I am still a work in progress and I still struggle with the many changes I have put in place. Be kind to yourself, worrying so much and feeling guilty for eating some chocolate can create far more stress than the actual piece of chocolate! That being said, we have a choice. We have to decide what we put in our body. Everyday, we have a choice to choose nutritionally rich foods that will contribute to a healthier body and life. Or we can choose to overeat processed foods which will make us feel good momentarily, shortly followed by a bunch of guilt and worry about what damage it has done to our bodies. Again, this is my experience, I got fed up with feeling bad so I changed my life and haven’t looked back!

I want to start with supplements as even during chemotherapy, I began to use them (always check with your medical team), my oncologist told me to stay off high doses of vitamin C as this would affect the efficacy of my chemotherapy. Whether you are on treatment, finished with cancer or just trying to be healthy, I would say that you can introduce TURMERIC into your diet. In fact, the first  oncologist I ever met ( I didn’t go with him) advised me to do this but that really was the only ‘food’ advice ever given by a doctor!

We all know Turmeric will stain anything yellow and it tastes great in a curry and has been used as a traditional Indian medicine as well as other Asian countries for thousands of years.

‘The key compounds in turmeric are called curcuminoids. Curcumin itself is the most active ingredient and appears to be the most important.

As a polyphenol, curcumin has several advantages to health. It’s a strong antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.’

For ages, I was just cooking with ground turmeric and making homemade tea with either ground turmeric or the root when I could get it (and honestly I find the tea gross!). Little did I realise that turmeric does not absorb easily into the body and all that chugging of nasty tea was a waste of time. Luckily, I recently learnt that there is a secret ingredient that will help curcumin absorption by up to 2000% and that ingredient is BLACK PEPPER.

‘Black pepper contains the bioactive compound piperine, which is an alkaloid like capsaicin, the active component found in chili powder and cayenne pepper (3Trusted Source).

Piperine has been shown to help relieve nausea, headaches and poor digestion and also has anti-inflammatory properties (4Trusted Source5Trusted Source6Trusted Source).

Still, its most significant benefit may be its ability to boost the absorption of curcumin (2Trusted Source7Trusted Source).’

 

Now even though I know that curcumin and piperine can work magic together, I don’t always want to have them in my meals so I looked around and found a supplement. I take two 500 mg capsules of ORGANIC TURMERIC WITH BLACK PEPPER daily (please note that I take a higher dosage that is relevant for me and I pass everything by my oncologist). I also cook regularly with it and make sure I add black pepper.

*On a side note, I recently bought a bag of ground cayenne which also contains piperine which works perfectly with a curry (don’t forget the turmeric), or any meal that you want to spice up. You can even make a cayenne tea with powdered cayenne powder and hot water! I just experiment and make recipes up as I go along!!

So how can turmeric (curcumin) help me personally and why do I take it?

‘Curcumin shows promise in not only treating but even preventing cancer (21Trusted Source22Trusted Source).

Test-tube studies suggest that it can decrease cancer growth, development and spread at the molecular level. It could also contribute to the death of cancerous cells (23Trusted Source24Trusted Source25Trusted Source26).

Piperine seems to play a role in the death of certain cancer cells as well, which can decrease your risk of tumor formation, while other research indicates it, too, might inhibit the growth of cancerous cells (27Trusted Source28Trusted Source).

One study showed that curcumin and piperine, both separately and in combination, interrupted the self-renewal process of breast stem cells. This is important, as this process is where breast cancer originates (29Trusted Source).

Further studies point to curcumin and piperine having protective effects against additional cancers, including prostate, pancreatic, colorectal and more (22Trusted Source23Trusted Source27Trusted Source30).’

You don’t need to take my word for it though, there is tons of research about the advantages of turmeric (curcumin) and how it is highly anti-inflammatory, see below, and if you still have doubts about its efficacy then research it further.

‘Inflammation is incredibly important.

It helps your body fight foreign invaders and also has a role in repairing damage.

Without inflammation, pathogens like bacteria could easily take over your body and kill you.

Although acute, short-term inflammation is beneficial, it can become a major problem when it becomes chronic and inappropriately attacks your body’s own tissues.

Scientists now believe that chronic, low-level inflammation plays a major role in almost every chronic, Western disease. This includes heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s and various degenerative conditions (4Trusted Source5Trusted Source6Trusted Source).

Therefore, anything that can help fight chronic inflammation is of potential importance in preventing and even treating these diseases.

Curcumin is strongly anti-inflammatory. In fact, it’s so powerful that it matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs, without the side effects (7Trusted Source8Trusted Source9Trusted Source ).

Without getting into the details (inflammation is extremely complicated), the key takeaway is that curcumin is a bioactive substance that fights inflammation at the molecular level (12Trusted Source1314).

It blocks NF-kB, a molecule that travels into the nuclei of your cells and turns on genes related to inflammation. NF-kB is believed to play a major role in many chronic diseases (1011Trusted Source).’

So, there you have it. I am sure it is not news to many of you but the pearl for me was the combination of black pepper. Remember, these powerful ingredients are helpful for everyone, it isn’t just about the dreaded ‘C’. Hope this has been informative and most health stores have the supplements or you can just getting cooking!

I also take vitamin D3 (1000 i/u) daily and of course the best source of vitamin D is the sun, I get plenty of that. Note that sunscreen will block vitamin D, so I tend to get out for 15 minutes at least without sunscreen (do not panic that I don’t always wear sunscreen!) the benefits of real sun versus a supplement outweigh the dangers of no sunscreen for 15 minutes. I have found that because it is sunny most days, I am not desperate to be in the heat all day, every day!

Vitamin D has many benefits:

  • promoting healthy bones and teeth
  • supporting immune, brain, and nervous system health
  • regulating insulin levels and supporting diabetes management
  • supporting lung function and cardiovascular health
  • influencing the expression of genes involved in cancer development

Just because I had cancer, does not mean I don’t have to worry about the rest of my body however, knowing that studies show it can prevent recurrence is a win win for me. There is also current advice that taking D3 can reduce complications if you are infected by COVID-19 (I will let you decide on that) so for me, that is also a bonus.

I found an interesting discussion which you can go ahead and read, if you want which discusses how vitamin D is very important in the fight against colon cancer. Other studies say the link is inconclusive. I don’t want to cherry pick and as always, I recommend you research before you start taking copious amounts of any vitamin. Here’s a snippet with the link to the full discussion:

 

‘Cancer Network: Let’s start with colon cancer. There have been numerous epidemiological studies on the possible benefit of vitamin D in preventing colon cancer. What do individual studies and meta-analyses tell us about vitamin D and colon cancer risk?

Dr. Holick: There continues to be association data saying that the higher your 25-hydroxy-vitamin D levels are, the lower your risk for colorectal cancer.

The earliest study was done by the Garland brothers back in the 1990s when they were relating latitude and colon cancer and then did a prospective study on vitamin D status and the risk of colon cancer.

They concluded two things. The first is that the higher latitude that you live, the higher your risk for colorectal cancer. They also concluded that taking 1,000 units of vitamin D a day could potentially reduce your risk of colon cancer by as much as 50%. Other studies have suggested that improving your vitamin D status would have the benefit of reducing colorectal cancer by about 25%–50%, depending on the study.’

I also take Zinc 22mg per day.

Zinc is essential for cell growth and division, immune function, enzyme reactions, DNA synthesis and protein production.

‘Zinc helps keep your immune system strong.

Because it is necessary for immune cell function and cell signaling, a deficiency can lead to a weakened immune response.

Zinc supplements stimulate particular immune cells and reduce oxidative stress.

For example, a review of seven studies demonstrated that 80–92 mg per day of zinc may reduce the length of the common cold by up to 33% (8Trusted Source).

What’s more, zinc supplements significantly reduce the risk of infections and promote immune response in older adults (9Trusted Source).’

I wouldn’t say that I really need to take this but my oncologist OK’d it and I mainly take it to boost my immune system which was wrecked after chemotherapy and liver surgery. My latest white blood cells count came in at 5.75 (The normal number of WBCs in the blood is 4,500 to 11,000 WBCs per microliter (4.5 to 11.0 × 109/L) so as you can see I am at the lower end but it is not bad considering!

Lastly, is B12. I had been taking a methylated tablet but it recently ran out and the super informed Lynda Stretton – Women’s Health Nutritionist  has recommended I take a liquid form which will absorb better. So, I will be buying that ASAP.

‘Vitamin B-12 (cobalamin) is a water-soluble vitamin that plays essential roles in red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function and the production of DNA.’

I have always suffered from mild anemia (exasperated during my surgeries and treatments) and low blood pressure and am now a vegetarian (pretty much but not quite vegan) so B12 also plays an important role.

‘Because your body is capable of storing several years’ worth of vitamin B-12, deficiency is rare. However, if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you might be prone to deficiency because plant foods don’t contain vitamin B-12. Older adults and people with digestive tract conditions that affect absorption of nutrients also are susceptible to vitamin B-12 deficiency.

 

So, that’s me in a nutshell. I know that there are hundreds of supplements out there that I could take and I know many people take a lot more than me. However, I really try to get my vitamins in naturally as best I can. If you would like to share what you take and the benefits, drop me an email and I can do a follow up post. I am always open to new information that can benefit me and others!

 

Thanks for reading and the next post will be along soon!

Love, Jojo x

2 Comments

  • Sarah Palmer

    Spot on Jo, I have been taking turmeric for a few years, luckily I can get fresh from Asian supermarkets. I add to many things, soups, macaroni cheese, vegan scrambled eggs, and of course tea with black pepper. I also this winter started with Vit D. B12 as vegan. I also recommend black seed/oil (nigella seed) After 15 years vegetarian I’ve been Vegan for 5 years now and never felt better. X