Spices and Health

March 2, 2014

“Life is uncertain, but death is a certainty.  Live every day and try your best.”  Our tour guide told us as our bus wound up and around the mountainous narrow terrain of Grenada.  Every local Grenadian we have met in the last two days has been overwhelmingly friendly and genuine.  We learned people frequently honk their horns when driving.  Having grown up on the east coast, 20 miles outside of Manhattan, the connotation of a honk is to express frustration or impatience, or to avoid an accident.  However, the soft pleasant honks in Grenada are to say hello to other drivers, people walking on the street, or to people sitting outside their house.  This aspect of Grenadian culture was just one of the many elements we learned since our arrival that strikes me as unique and special to Grenadian culture.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon at the local spice market in St. Georges.  The aromas of saffron, mace (not the spray to defend oneself from an attacker!), cinnamon, cocoa, nutmeg, and many more filled our senses as we walked around and spoke to vendors.  One of our tasks of the day was to find out about certain spices or remedies that are important for medicinal purposes.  Here are a few, but there are many more!

  1. You have a toothache?  Put one piece of clove on your tooth that hurts!
  2. Do you have arthritis?  Rub nutmeg oil on your joints!
  3. Do you have high blood pressure?  Take cinnamon!

Also, our tour guide explained every night before he goes to bed he makes tea with cinnamon and has not needed to see a doctor in 15 years!  But is he healthy because of the spices?  Or is it the environment he lives in?  Or is it his genes?  He says his mother is 92 and his father lived until age 97.  Out of a population of approximately 100,000 people, the island has 40 centurions.  I think it is likely to be some sort of combination of these factors that contributes to this healthier lifestyle.

However, the island is still suffering from cancer and chronic diseases with unique trends to the Grenadian population.  Tomorrow my group will start a project to study the increase incidence in late-stage cervical cancer diagnoses in Grenada that has been noted by health professionals on the island.  In pre-trip meetings we learned cancer is not something people like to talk about or admit.  In addition, since it can be asymptomatic, it is often hard to conceptualize and people will not actively seek out treatment until it has reached a more serious stage.

I am excited to see what this project has in store for us and how we can help in any capacity.  I cannot wait to learn more about the culture and understand more about the Grenadian lifestyle and how this impacts health status.  We can only begin to understand their health conditions by understanding their culture and daily life.

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