Dear Doc: I traveled to Peru with my daughter, a Spanish teacher, and nine of her favorite student friends. After spending a full day at sea level in Lima, we flew to Cuzco at 11,000 feet. When our wonderful native guide took us to our hotel, he instructed us to drink as much coca tea as we could.
The next day we felt amazing – no headache, lots of energy and rip-roaring ready for the climb. I know that cocaine comes from coca leaves, so was I getting a cocaine high? And how can they sell this stuff on Amazon.com?
– Travelin’ Tina
Dear Tina: You’re right that cocaine comes from this plant, but the leaf tea you had has a teeny, tiny amount. Your cup of coca tea probably had about 5 milligrams of cocaine, while one line of cocaine – like you might see in the movie “Pulp Fiction” – has about 30 milligrams.
Coca leaf tea is a stimulant, more akin to caffeine than crack. I don’t think the tea made you high; I think you’d have to drink about a gallon of the stuff before you’d get buzzed. And with that, you’d probably get the trots, as cocaine has been known to “move the bowels.”
Now, as for the coca leaf they sell on Amazon, it’s supposed to be de-cocainized, a process similar to taking caffeine out of coffee. Whether the product you looked at has actually been treated this way is a question for J. Edgar Hoover – and he’s no longer around.
Dear Doc: I’ve been reading about the benefits of turmeric and heard that the National Institutes of Health is funding research. What’s your take? I have arthritis and think I’ll try it. Do I need to swallow a capsule or can I just keep eating Indian food, which I love, love, love.
– Achy Sam
Dear Sam: Turmeric has many traditional uses – as a spice, to dye clothes and for medicinal purposes. Traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine uses turmeric to heal sores, cure colds, treat infections, cure heart disease, gout, diabetes, liver failure … you get the idea. Turmeric does just about everything.
I’m always skeptical about a drug that’s the cat’s meow, and so was the National Institutes of Health. That’s why they started funding studies for such things as Alzheimer’s, cancer and inflammatory conditions including rheumatoid arthritis.
Consumer Labs (consumerlab.com), my go-to site anytime I want to evaluate supplements, rated which turmeric capsules were potent and which were duds. If you’re going to try turmeric, or for that matter any supplement, don’t be swayed by things such as the beauty of the label, the color of the bottle or the price.
There are lots of supplements that cost a lot and have little in them. Many companies spend more on advertising and container design than they do on the product inside. I recommend you only buy supplements that have been tested by an independent company. Be a smart consumer.
Now, as for your Indian food question, I’m not quite sure. If you want to have curry every day instead of buying a pill, go right ahead. One thing about turmeric – if you eat the spice, you’ll know what you’re getting. It’s yummy.
Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, university professor, author and broadcast journalist. He also hosts a radio program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.