Q: I keep hearing that turmeric is good for you. Is this true, or just a myth?
Andrea De Roode, clinical dietitian, Maui Memorial Medical Center: Turmeric is a relative of the ginger plant. While you can find dried, ground turmeric in powdered form as well as in capsules and extracts, it is also grown fresh here in Hawaii, where it is also called ‘olena.
Turmeric has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, and Western medicine also is starting to study its health benefits. Recently, there have been a number of scientific studies that have found turmeric may indeed be good for your health. Several studies have found that turmeric is good for your immune system and has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties and can be beneficial for inflammatory conditions like arthritis. It can also help support healthy liver function and is being studied as a way to help digestive disorders, and even as something that can help with cancer treatment (although more research needs to be done).
Turmeric also has some negative side effects. It has a bitter taste, and some people find that it upsets their stomach when taken in large amounts. Some studies have also found that it can interfere with blood-thinning drugs, or make you bleed more easily.
While you should always talk to your doctor before trying an alternative therapy, and be sure to ask about possible medication interactions, for many people, it seems like turmeric can offer real health benefits.
Q: Should men be screened for prostate cancer?
Dr. Derrick Beech, surgical oncologist, MMMC Outpatient Clinic: While I don’t treat patients for prostate cancer, I can and do provide prostate cancer screening for men. There are a few different types of screening. One method is the digital rectal examination, in which the doctor inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel the prostate for any irregularities. This can reveal lumps or bumps that may be a sign of cancer. Another tool is the PSA test. This is a simple blood test that measures the level of a hormone called prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in a man’s blood. High levels of PSA may be a sign of prostate cancer. The advantage of the PSA test is it can detect signs of prostate cancer very early. However, one disadvantage is that sometimes it can produce a false positive, because there are other conditions that can cause your PSA levels to be elevated.
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men, but it grows very slowly, so it is usually very treatable. Prostate cancer rates are actually lower in Hawaii than they are in the rest of the United States. About 87 out of 100,000 men in Hawaii will develop prostate cancer each year. That compares to 109 men out of 100,000 for the whole United States. Rates are even lower in Maui County, with fewer than 57 men out of 100,000 diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. However, it’s important to note that Native Hawaiian men have a disproportionately higher mortality rate with prostate cancer. That’s why screening, including the PSA test, is especially important for the Native Hawaiian community.
If you’re interested in more information about prostate cancer screening, you may contact my office at 442-5700, or speak with your own doctor about what screening is right for you.
* Physicians, providers and administrative staff who practice at Maui Health System hospitals and clinics answer questions from the public in “Healthwise Maui,” which appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Maui Health System operates Maui Memorial Medical Center, Maui Memorial Medical Center Outpatient Clinic, Kula Hospital & Clinic and Lana’i Community Hospital and accepts all patients. To submit a question, go to the website at mauihealth.org/healthwise.