Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Turmeric or haldi has been used in my family for many purposes besides culinary. I am sure it must be true for most of the homes in India. I was introduced to turmeric powder (haldi) during my own childhood when my mother and grandmother prevailed upon us to take it for frequent bouts of cough during winter season. We took it in powder form with hot milk just before going to bed. We were also advised to take it when having general aches and pains all over the body after a particularly grueling day in the sports field. The powder of haldi was also sprinkled over open wounds to speed up healing. Now we know that it works as an antiseptic and prevents infection of the open wound. I started taking haldi regularly only a few years ago to overcome my frequent bouts of sinusitis. I think it has benefited me somewhat. It has reduced my frequent use of antibiotics. However, it has not set right my proneness for easy and recurrent rhinitis and sinusitis. Recently I discovered that Bikash, a very close friend and famous neurosurgeon in the US, also takes haldi on regular basis. Bikash and Dottie were visiting us in England, and after dinner Chitra asked them if they would like to have a drink. She suggested if they wanted to flatter me, they should take ‘haldi-milk’. Surprise, surprise; Bikash had been using haldi regularly for some time in the same way as I took, though he took it in cold milk.
So, when recently I was asked about the scientific validity of haldi powder, I rushed to where else, but Prof Google and Tutor Wikipedia, and collected the following information.

Medicinal properties of Haldi (Turmeric, Curcumin) as gleaned from the net:

In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is thought to have many medicinal properties and many in India use it as a readily available antiseptic for cuts, burns and bruises. Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine say it has fluoride which is thought to be essential for teeth. It is also used as an antibacterial agent. It is taken in some Asian countries as a dietary supplement, which allegedly helps with stomach problems and other ailments. It is popular as tea in Okinawa, Japan. It is currently being investigated for possible benefits in Alzheimer's disease, cancer and liver disorders.
It is only in recent years that Western scientists have increasingly recognized the medicinal properties of turmeric. According to a 2005 article in the Wall Street Journal titled, "Common Indian Spice Stirs Hope," research activity into curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is exploding. Two hundred and fifty-six curcumin papers were published in the past year according to a search of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Supplement sales have increased 35% since 2004, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health has four clinical trials underway to study curcumin treatment for pancreatic cancer, multiple myeloma, Alzheimer's, and colorectal cancer.
A 2004 UCLA-Veterans Affairs study involving genetically altered mice suggests that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, might inhibit the accumulation of destructive beta amyloids in the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients and also breaks up existing plaques. "Curcumin has been used for thousands of years as a safe anti-inflammatory in a variety of ailments as part of Indian traditional medicine," Gregory Cole, Professor of medicine and neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA said. Another 2004 study conducted at Yale University involved oral administration of curcumin to mice to study its benefit in cystic fibrosis. Anti-tumoral effects against melanoma cells have been demonstrated. A recent study involving mice has shown that turmeric slows the spread of breast cancer into lungs and other body parts. Turmeric also enhances the effect of anti-cancer drugs in reducing metastasis of breast cancer.
Curcumin is thought to be a powerful pain-relieving agent. In the November 2006 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, a study was published that showed the effectiveness of turmeric in the reduction of joint inflammation, and recommended clinical trials as a possible treatment for the alleviation of arthritis symptoms. It is thought to work as a natural inhibitor of the cox-2 enzyme, and has been shown effective in animal models for neuropathic pain secondary to diabetes, among others. Presenting their findings at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in San Francisco in June 2008, researchers discovered that turmeric-treated mice were less susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes, based on their blood glucose levels, and glucose and insulin tolerance tests. They also discovered that turmeric-fed obese mice showed significantly reduced inflammation in fat tissue and liver compared to controls.
Welcome to Haldi Club!

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Fire is a major risk in Antarctica with grave consequences. When we, the members of 27th Indian Antarctic Expedition, were being trained and briefed at Auli, our team leader, Mr Arun Chaturvedi, veteran of many Antarctic expeditions, had very explicitly told us the risk of fire in Antarctica due to closed spaces, wooden structures, high wind, dry air and plenty of oxygen.
Unfortunately, inspite of it being a real danger and all the precautions, such accidents do happen in Antarctica with tragic results. Besides the loss of life, loss of scientific and communication equipments, medical and other supplies can also become major hindrance in the successful completion of expedition. Sadly, such an accident has happened last week at Russian station, Progress, situated at Larsemann Hills (its rough coordinates are: 69S and 76E).
I had visited this station in March, 2008 when I visited Larsemann Hills where India is also coming up with its third station. The Russian leader, Lukin, had greeted us very warmly, and the team doctor, again Lukin, had taken us around the station. I was very impressed with the new station coming up at Progress. I am reproducing below the mail which the Russian leader shared with all the Antarctic nations after the accident. The photograph below shows Mr Ajay Dhar, again an Antarctic veteran and leader of the summer team of the 27th IAE, with both the Lukins.

From: lukin@aari.nw.ru - Valery Lukin (lukin)

Dear COMNAP members,
With great regret I have to inform you that at night on 5 October around
2.00 Moscow time (4.00 local time) there was a fire at Progress station in
the two-storeyed living building. The station team was not able to cope with
the fire by their own efforts and the building was completely destroyed by
fire. The station team comprised 29 people including 10 builders. As a
result of the fire, one person is missing (the body was not yet found) and
two persons were injured (fractures of different gravity). All three people
are from the construction team. The injured people are now at the medical
unit of the station. On 7 October the Progress personnel began dismantling
the collapsed structures and probably they will find the body of the third
builder at this place. Most of communication facilities and part of
scientific equipment including all PCs were destroyed. At present the
station team (28 people) lives in the old small houses left by previous
builders. The fire did not spread to the other station facilities, so we
have the mess-hall and the galley, the medical unit, "warm" and "cold"
warehouses, all transport vehicles and also the facilities of the new
wintering station under construction (diesel-electric power station, garage
and repair shops, a bath-house, a heli-pad, fuel storage and the carcass of
the new building). All food, fuel and medical supplies were preserved. The
people are provided with normal meals, polar clothing and medical service.
The station continues to fulfil the program on geomagnetism, partly on
coastal oceanography and hydrography. Meteorological observations and
receiving satellite information were temporarily stopped. The Progress
station now has HF radio-communication and telephone satellite communication
via Iridium and RAE daily communicates with the station and Progress station
communicates with Mirny or Vostok stations twice a day. We are very grateful
to Chinese colleagues from Zhongshan station for their immense help and
various assisstance provided after the fire. The Zhongshan station is at a
distance of 1.5 km from Progress station in the Larsemann Hills on the coast
of Prydz Bay. The burnt building was built in 1991. RAE plans to organize a
flight of BT67 airplane from Novolazarevskaya station in early December. If
the state of the injured people aggravates, RAE will make this flight in
early November for evacuating these people. The R/V "Akademik Fedorov" will
approach the Progress station on 20 December and deliver the necessary
equipment and supplies and new personnel.
So far the cause of the fire was not determined. We have informed all our
wintering stations about this accident with the request to check all
equipment and safety emergency action plans.
We are not asking the Antarctic community for help as the situation at the
station is not critical and station continues operation.
Have a good Antarctic season.
Best wishes.
Valery Lukin
RAE Head

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dharan Revisited...

Ever since I spent time in Dharan, I have looked forward to visiting it again and again, and fortunately there have been a number of opportunities to go there and relive the time once again. To the uninitiated: I spent more than two years between 1997 and 1999 at the B. P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, Dharan. Dharan was then a sleeping town in the foothills of Eastern province of Nepal. It is 150 km from Siliguri (airport: Bagdogra) or 5-hour drive from Darjeeling. Bihar border is only 50 km at Jogbani adjacent to Birat Nagar. Dharan had been the centre for the British Army to recruit soldiers for its Gorkha Regiment. The Ghopa Camp, established by them on a 700-acre estate, offered them to live there in style with an 18-hole golf course, swimming pools, sports facilities, and a vast jungle. They had established a 150-bedded hospital too there for people living there, ‘goras’ as well as ‘civilians’. There was a clear dividing line between ‘gora lines’ and ‘civil lines’ with civilians being prohibited to enter gora lines. In the early 1990s when the demand for Gorkha soldiers decreased, British decided to hand over the camp to Nepalese government, and subsequently wound up their operations. It became difficult for the Nepal government to sustain this sprawling estate. The then Indian PM, Shri Chandra Sekhar, a good friend of Koirala family, offered a substantial grant to develop the camp with a new health institution with a mandate to train local manpower for spreading health care in the Himalayan state. Thus, the B. P. Koirala Instt for Health Sciences got established where Indian doctors have been going there for short-term as well as long-term assignments for providing clinical care as well as training the young Nepalese health professionals for the country. I had gone there to help set up the department of psychiatry in the institute for its clinical and training facilities.
When I went there more than 10 years ago, Dharan was just a little sleeping town. It had started to awaken then and now 10 years later it is a bustling town with a vibrant economy, and in keeping with modern trend, has a few ‘malls’ too. In those two years, besides doing my clinical and academic work, I got plenty of opportunities in Dharan for trekking to nearby areas where I got a chance to see first hand how people lived in mountains with no roads, no health facility, or only a symbolic school. Only means of transportation was either to trek for a few days to reach the road head, or fly. Yes, Nepal could boast of nearly 40 airports situated on plateau on various hill tops. Flying in a small Dornier and landing over flat grassland was an experience in itself.
Last month when the Dean Office invited me there, it also advised me to come to Bagdogra (airport in Siliguri) from where I would be picked up. Normal route would have been Delhi-Kathmandu-Birat Nagar by air and then to Dharan by road. The Kosi River was in full spate with incessant rains in the hills and had breached the road bridge on the highway linking Dharan with Kathmandu, and with road traffic totally paralyzed, the Kathmandu-Birat Nagar flights were going full. The floods-prone Kosi, 'Bihar's sorrow', is a nightmare in flood management. Efforts to contain the river's annual season of fury by building embankments have not succeeded. Kosi is one of the largest tributaries of Ganga. In spite of an age-old treaty between India and Nepal, both countries have failed to tame the river. Each year it is the same story of floods, destruction, and human migration. It was funny watching Nepalese and Indian TV channels there when both sides blamed the other side for not fulfilling the obligation of maintenance of embankments etc.
The BPKIHS staff car was waiting for me at Bagdogra. The Nepal border at Kakarbitta was 25 km away. The road on Bengal side was in pathetic condition due to rains as well as poor maintenance even during dry season. While traveling in those parts of the country, the main worry is not because of the condition of roads, but because of frequent and instantaneous road blocks or ‘bandh’. The famous village, Naxalbari’ is on this route. Once we crossed into Nepal, the highway became better. East-West highway is the longest in country and is maintained in large parts by India. We stopped at Damak to straighten our legs and have tea. Over the last 10 years, the quality of ‘samosa’ had certainly improved. We reached Ghopa camp or BPKIHS on time. A number of new buildings had come up in last two years since my last visit. However, the greenery was still intact and it was very welcoming. The guest house was full of various medical experts from India and Nepal who had come there to conduct the M.D. examination in various disciplines. It was very nostalgic meeting some old colleagues; it was almost like home coming. A big colonial house has been converted into a guest house where I was put up with the luxury of a suite. It was very heartening to see that inspite of vast new construction, the green cover apparently was still intact. During my early morning walk next day, I came across a number of birds with whom I was familiar. I almost felt as if we recognized one another. Besides common birds, I spotted grey hornbill, pied hornbill, tree pie once again. While walking back in the night, I wanted, but at the same time did not want, to come face to face with a snake. Those days, it was a common occurrence for a rat snake or cobra to cross your path during late evening walks. But now with increased human and vehicular traffic, the snakes perhaps have hastened their exit.

It was quite satisfying to see the department of Psychiatry at BPKIHS progressing quite well. It has made a space for itself in clinical, teaching and training activities. It is training MBBS students, specialist psychiatrists, as well as psychiatric nurses; it is fulfilling a vast gap between supply and demand for mental health care in the Himalayan nation. The department as well as the Vice Chancellor were kind enough to allow me to share my experiences of Antarctica with the students and staff.


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