bowl of blueberries

Before there were pharmacies on nearly every corner, people relied on Mother Nature’s medicine chest. Native healers all over the world took advantage of the medicinal properties of plants.

Now, scientists are confirming that Hippocrates was on to something when he urged his patients to let food be your medicine. A recent study in the Journal of Nutrition (Feb., 2014) showed that women who eat more berries and drink more tea are less prone to develop type 2 diabetes.

The investigators identified antioxidant compounds called flavonoids and anthocyanins as responsible for this protective effect. Anthocyanins give fruits like blackberries and blueberries their lovely color, but clearly they do other important things for human metabolism.

Not only does a diet high in such plant-derived chemicals reduce the risk for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, it also lowers the likelihood of heart attacks (Circulation, Jan. 15, 2013). That may be in part because these natural substances make blood vessels more flexible. They also reduce inflammation that increases the chance of a heart attack or stroke.

Readers of this column have been reporting anti-inflammatory effects from foods and spices for decades. Here is one testimonial:

“My mother has osteoarthritis. Her joints have been overused and she hurts everywhere. She has been miserable.

“She read about tart cherry juice and bought some. Less than a week later, she is smiling and bubbly and HAPPY! She says most of the pain is gone.

“She started with a full glass daily, not knowing how much to take. It is a bit pricey so she is now taking 1 ounce a day as a maintenance dose. I think the larger amount slammed her body into fighting the inflammation.”

Cherries are not the only food with anti-inflammatory activity. One reader offered his experience:

“I read about pineapple for arthritis, and it has certainly helped me. The juice is too high in sugars for me, so I have a slice of fresh pineapple each day. Without the pineapple, I wake up feeling every joint in my hands has been broken.”

Spices may also offer benefit against inflammation, as another reader discovered:

“Turmeric really works for me for finger and knee arthritis. How do I know? Twice I’ve run out of turmeric for two week periods, and pain, redness and visible swelling occurred in my little pinky finger joints; all my other joints were achy.”

Another reader discovered a different benefit from turmeric:

“I am a 53 year old menopausal woman and I can say that my hot flashes (flushes) have diminished greatly after taking turmeric for this problem. The turmeric also eased pain in my achy knees and the soles of my feet.”

There are many other medicinal foods. One study found that powdered sesame seeds worked better for arthritic knee pain than acetaminophen (International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases, Oct., 2013).

To learn more about the health benefits of specific foods for common ailments, you may wish to consult our book The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies from National Geographic. Researchers are rediscovering what Hippocrates knew 2,500 years ago: food really is the best medicine.

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  1. PCM

    I drink a cup of ginger tea with a dash of turmeric during a Rheumatoid Arthritis flare. The effect for me is similar to a dose of Ibuprofen: about 20 minutes after drinking the tea, I get considerable relief from both pain and swelling, and it lasts from four to six hours. To make the tea, I simply peel and slice a half-inch of ginger root into a cup of boiling water ( or ask my husband to do it if my hands are hurting), cover, and steep for five minutes. Strain, add turmeric (only a dash, as it tastes quite strong), and sweeten to taste. For variety, I might add an herbal tea bag. Delicious and therapeutic with no adverse side effects.

  2. JBL

    Your latest article mentions the value of sesame seeds for knee pain. Would sesame seed oil capsules supply the same ingredients in a more concentrated form without having to consume spoons full of dry seeds?

  3. MK

    Is pineapple juice good for coughs?

  4. cp

    I have been using ginger root in a large cup of green tea every morning (about one teaspoon) since October 2013. It has really worked for my osteoarthritis, especially in the knees.

  5. Tumeric for natural relief

    Thank you for sharing the idea of turmeric for relief of hot flashes and achy knees. I’ve had hot flashes for 10+ years and nothing has really helped except trying to ignore it.
    Recently started dancing at my gym. My joints feel it a little.
    Will add turmeric to salad dressing.
    How much is enough and how else can turmeric be ingested?
    Thank you!!

  6. Mary

    Curcumin seems to help inflammation, but I can’t take it because it thins my blood – makes me bleed too easily. I’ve stopped OTC pain meds for the same reason.

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