Horseradish healing

horseradish photo by Jerry Pank
Horseradish photo by Jerry Pank

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Can that little jar of horseradish in your fridge cure cancer?

Like its cousins, the other cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cabbage, fiery nose-tingling horseradish has high levels of glucosinolates (more than ten times broccoli’s). These chemicals — in horseradish’s mustard oil — break down inside us into indoles and isothiocyanates, which are said to provide anti-cancer benefits by helping the liver rid itself of cancer-causing substances and even slowing down tumor growth. The processing, or grating, of horseradish breaks it down and helps release enzymes that make it more effective. Although many studies have supported this effect, more clinical trials with human subjects may be needed to confirm it.

Cancer-fighters or not, these glucosinolates subdue bacteria that cause disease. They have been proven as a natural antibiotic for many ills, from urinary-tract to sinus infections. They also increase blood flow and reduce waste products.

We’ve been turning to horseradish for health for about 3000 years. The ancient Greeks used it as an aphrodisiac and to ease lower back pain. It became one of the five bitter herbs used at Passover, and later was used to treat TB, coughs, colic and scurvy. In the Middle Ages the English and Germans brewed horseradish ale with tansy and wormwood, and today a horseradish vodka — Referent — is distilled in Wisconsin. In the colonial era of this country we embraced it, started bottling it in 1860, and now we produce about six million gallons per year of prepared horseradish.

The horseradish plant Armoracia rusticana, along with radishes, kale, mustard, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, is in the family Brassicaceae. This cold-hardy perennial needs little fussing in the garden, just dividing every few years, and the flavor of the freshly grated root trumps the jarred variety.

Every part of the plant from root to leaves has medicinal value, but it’s worth seeking out for its nutrition benefits alone. Free-radical fighting vitamin C is abundant in horseradish, so consuming it can fight off signs of aging on the skin, build collagen for healing muscle and bone cells, strengthen immunity and stave off inflammation, heart issues and cancer. Low-cal, fat-free and full of fiber, it also has potassium and calcium, plus iron, zinc, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and a bit of B vitamins.

Crucial mutations

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Dr. Andrew Ashikari.

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A simple blood test could change the outcome of a future cancer patient’s life. In the 1990s, a test was developed to identify those that had genetic mutations known as BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 (breast and ovarian cancer gene.)

Recent studies have suggest that those carrying the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 mutation have a 50 to 80 percent greater risk of getting breast cancer and a 40 percent greater chance of ovarian cancer than those without the gene. These inherited genes have a greater chance of showing up in someone of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage (Central and Eastern Europe.)

According to Sharsheret (an organization that supports young Jewish women and families facing breast and ovarian cancer — www.sharsheret.org), one in 40 people of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage are at risk, compared to one in 345 of non-Ashkenazi individuals.

To this end, women and men who have a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer from either their maternal or paternal side are encouraged to get tested for the gene, particularly if those cancers came on at a young age in their relative or relatives. If someone had a familial history of breast and/or ovarian cancer are of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, that risk is greatly compounded.

If BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genetic mutations are discovered during a blood test, depending on family history and ethnic heritage, surgical interventions are available that those with the gene may want to consider, or at the least understand.

In light of the predisposition to breast and ovarian cancers in Eastern and Central European Jewish women and men, the Jewish Congregation of the New Paltz Community Center (JCNP) has invited Dr. Andrew Ashikari, a prominent surgeon and pioneer in the research of genetic ovarian and breast cancers, as well as a founder with his father of the renowned Ashikari Breast Cancer Center in Westchester, to speak on this topic on Monday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. at the JCNP at 30 N. Chestnut St.

Merly Klaus, who helped organize the event, said she was inspired to do so because of knowing people within the local Jewish community that had the BRCA 1 and 2 gene — some of whom were tested and took preventative action and some who were not informed of the test and are battling breast or ovarian cancer.