by Columbia Surgery on October 1, 2014

The supposed benefits of probiotic bacteria in the gut are numerous; from decreasing the incidence of diarrhea,  to replenishing the digestive system’s micro-biome after a heavy treatment of antibiotics to cure an illness. And though there isn’t a definitive consensus amongst medical practitioners that these benefits are scientifically proven, there is agreement on what foods to eat if you’re looking to increase the level of healthy bacteria in your gut (any fermented dairy products with live cultures present, usually yogurts, dairy drinks, and some cheeses).

However, once you’ve made it a point to increase the number of these bacteria in your digestive system, they need to be fed and cultivated. That’s where “prebiotics” come in. Prebiotics are carbohydrates that the human body cannot digest, but which act as a source of food for the bacteria in our gut. They can be found in a number of foods but never in the same food in which probiotics are found. Here are 8 to try:

Asparagus Jerusalem Artichoke
Bananas Oatmeal
Legumes Chicory Root
Onions Garlic


Making these foods a part of your diet will please the helpful organisms throughout your digestive system,  and if preliminary studies indicate correctly, those helpful bacteria will please you in return.


Turmeric, Curcumin, and Cancer: What’s the Research?

by Columbia Surgery on March 26, 2014

Turmeric Blog3Deborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN
Clinical Nutritionist
The Pancreas Center

Turmeric is a root, appearing similar to ginger, with a very mild bitter and spicy flavor, often found ground in the spices section of your grocery store.  As one of the main spices found in curry, you may recognize turmeric by its bright yellow/orange hue. Due to its mild flavor, many chefs are incorporating turmeric into their dishes solely for its bright color!

One of the components found in turmeric is called curcumin, which is an antioxidant in the polyphenol family that has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anticancer properties.  Used for centuries in Chinese and Indian medicine, turmeric has been used to treat a wide range of ailments including various skin conditions, respiratory disorders, gastrointestinal distress, and infections (parasitic, viral, and bacterial alike).

In addition to its widespread ability to help treat many ailments, there are few side effects for the majority of people. The major drawback in using curcumin has been a low bioavailability, therefore the formulation and delivery of the substance must be carefully considered. The use of nanoparticle technology has allowed for increased bioavailability, resulting in up to 27 times greater absorption in human studies when taken orally. Traditionally, turmeric is used with black pepper in cooking. Piperine, a main component in black pepper, has been shown to increase curcumin bioavailability by 2000%.

Much attention has been paid to curcumin use for cancer prevention and treatment including leukemia, breast, colon, prostate, and pancreatic cancer.  Studies have shown curcumin increases tumor cell death (apoptosis) while stopping tumor cell growth (proliferation). Researchers injected human pancreatic cells into mice to study the effects of liposomal curcumin on tumor growth and discovered the mice given curcumin had a 42% decrease in tumor growth compared to untreated mice.

Researchers studied the effect and tolerance of a nanoparticle formulated type of curcumin (Theracurmin®) given orally to patients with advanced pancreatic or biliary cancer with gemcitabine based chemotherapy.  Patients reported improvements in fatigue, overall function, and appetite. Toxicities were comparable with those expected from standard. Two patients reported increased abdominal pain after receiving Theracurmin® however both patients had dilated colons. Since curcumin can be an intestinal irritant, the authors recommend caution in the use of curcumin in such circumstances. Listed as a potential conflict of interest, two of the study’s authors are involved with Theravalues Corporation, the company that manufactures Theracurmin®.

What does all this mean for you or your loved ones suffering with pancreatic cancer?

Curcumin has been shown to be effective in limiting tumor growth in controlled animal based studies. A small phase 1 human trial showed curcumin is generally well tolerated when given with chemotherapy and may improve certain aspects of the patient’s quality of life.

While it may be too soon to run to your local supplement store and stock up on curcumin in pill form, feel free to add turmeric (remember that yellow spice that curcumin is found in?) to your food. Turmeric compliments salads, casseroles, and omelets well. Don’t forget to sprinkle on some black pepper to make sure you absorb well, and feel free to enjoy this golden spice as part of your diet!

A word of caution

Mega doses of curcumin may worsen certain conditions such as gall bladder problems, reflux, or other gastrointestinal disorders. If you are taking blood thinners, or are having surgery within two weeks, you should avoid supplemental curcumin as it may cause extra bleeding. Always discuss taking a supplement with your health care provider to be sure it will not interfere with your medications or worsen any medical conditions you may have.

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Cheers for Chia: the Ancient Superfood

February 21, 2014

TweetDeborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN Clinical Nutritionist The Pancreas Center Many people are familiar with Chia Pets, the clay pots where sprouted chia seeds grow “hair” on animals or figurines. Fewer of us are familiar with the chia seeds used in many foods, drinks, cereal, and baked goods. If you take a look in your […]

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The Wellness Series

February 4, 2014

TweetWhen diagnosed with breast cancer, Eileen Z. Fuentes, a Columbia University employee, experienced cancer treatment from a patient’s perspective. Having worked for Columbia, she knew she was in capable hands during her treatment; however, she was determined to play an active part of her own health and recovery and was unsure how to do so. […]

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Research Study Enrolling Women from the Bronx Who Have Survived Colorectal Cancer

January 24, 2014

TweetResearchers at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center are conducting a clinical trial to test whether an exercise and diet weight loss program can help overweight colon or rectal cancer survivors reach a healthy body weight. The National Cancer Institute-funded research study offers nutrition counseling and free membership to a weight loss facility to help women who […]

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What You Need to Know About Pancreatic Enzymes

December 20, 2013

TweetDeborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN, Clinical Nutritionist at The Pancreas Center, writes regularly about nutritional issues for patients with pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis, and other pancreatic diseases, which commonly cause problems with eating or maintaining their weight. In this post, she answers frequently asked questions about the benefits and proper use of pancreatic enzymes. What are […]

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Nutrition after the Whipple Procedure: What You Need To Know About Micronutrient Deficiencies

November 27, 2013

TweetDeborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN Clinical Nutritionist, The Pancreas Center One of the most common questions patients ask after having a Whipple procedure is “what vitamins or supplements should I be taking?” The general answer is if you aren’t yet eating well, we recommend that you take a multivitamin to assure you meet all of […]

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Following The Dietary Guidelines for Americans May Reduce Your Risk for Pancreatic Cancer

October 8, 2013

TweetDeborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN Clinical Nutritionist, The Pancreas Center Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Over 44,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, and over 38,000 will die. This poor prognosis largely results from the difficulty in detecting the disease before it progresses to […]

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Healthy Snacking for Weight Gain

September 18, 2013

TweetDeborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN Clinical Nutritionist, The Pancreas Center While many people in the United States are focused on losing weight to improve their overall health, there is another group of people who are struggling to gain weight. If you are trying to gain weight, or are having difficulty maintaining your weight, try adding […]

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Your Dietitian’s Dish

July 31, 2013

TweetDeborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN Clinical Nutritionist, The Pancreas Center I am always asking my patients to tell me, in great detail, exactly what they eat on a typical day. Recently, I have had several patients inquire about my own eating habits. So I decided that for once, I would turn the tables around and […]

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