WHEN a friend told Asad that saffron helps alleviate mild to moderate depression, Asad consulted his doctor and thereafter he started taking a milligram capsule of saffron daily. After a few weeks, he felt a significant improvement and reported that he did not feel as depressed as he used to earlier. Saffron, a yellow spice which is widely used in Pakistani curries, is also used as a remedy for colds and stomach problems. Research and clinical studies support Asad's experience. Shahin Akhondzadeh and colleagues at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences and the Institute of Medicinal Plants in Iran discovered that saffron was used in traditional Persian medicine to treat depression. They found in phytotherapy research in 2005 that people who consumed a daily 30-milligram capsule of saffron for six weeks experienced significant improvement over those who were given a placebo. According to an article written by Kim Ridley, Co-Editor 'Signs of Hope' in Praise of ordinary heroes, published in Ode Magazine recently revealed that there have been several research and clinical studies which suggest that "spices can ease inflammation, kill bacteria and viruses and even cause cancel cells to self-destruct. Spices have been used for centuries to cure diseases and health problems. For example, Ridley calls turmeric, the "aspirin of Asia" and explains that turmeric, a common and basic ingredient in Pakistani curries, contains curcumin, "a compound which is a powerful anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant". It can inhibit the growth of cancer cells. According to a 2001 study by Vijay Chandra of the University Of Pittsburgh Graduate School Of Public Health, Indians have some of the lowest rates of Alzheimer's disease ever reported. A study of 1,010 people over the age of 60 who had no dementia found that those who ate curry "occasionally" and "often or very often scored higher on mental performance tests than those who rarely or never consumed it. Research by Tze-Pin Ng and colleagues at the National University of Singapore also found that a diet rich in turmeric is associated with stronger mental performance. This study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2006, found that the most typical curry in Singapore is the turmeric-laden yellow curry. Similarly, red chili, another common spice, is an antioxidant, and a digestive stimulant. It also has a high source of Vitamin A. The daily vitamin A requirement can be met by consuming 1/2 tablespoon of ground red chili, garlic or lassan, an essential ingredient which is used in almost all Pakistani cooking arid in preparations Like chutney, vegetables, and sauces, reduces high blood pressure, prevents heart disease and cancer, and helps in maintaining a healthy liver function. Karen Collins, RD, nutrition advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research states that garlic destroys cancer cells and may disrupt the metabolism of tumor cells: "Studies suggest that one or two cloves weekly provide cancer-protective benefits." Coriander helps to clear bronchial tubes. It strengthens the stomach and helps in getting comfort from flatulence. When coriander seeds are boiled in water and the mixture consumed, cholesterol can be lowered. However, it is an unfortunate reality that majority of the spices used in our daily cooking are adulterated with toxic substances and contaminants. Mostly, loose spices sold in the open market are mixed with toxic substances add contaminants that are very harmful to health. This is common practice in the open markets, whereby traders and merchants substitute costly food grace colours with cheap and prohibited dyes and colors such as Sudan dye, para red dye, textile dyes and leather dyes. These carcinogenic substances and mutagenic compounds are mixed in spices. For example, chill, cayenne and paprika pepper including curry spice mixes are contaminated with industrial dyes Sudan 1 and para red dye. These dyes are banned in many countries, but are still widely distributed. Red chili powder is often mixed with crushed red brick. Saffron is mixed with dried tendrils of artificial colored maize, which is harmful to health. Turmeric may be adulterated with lead chromate, which can cause anemia, paralyses, mental retardation, brain damage in children and abortion in pregnant women. Whole spices may contain extraneous matter like dirt, dust, straw, stem insects and damaged seeds. Caraway seeds (kala zeera) are adulterated with grass seeds coloured with charcoal dust, which is injurious to health. Most of these toxins injure the intestines and cause stomach and food pipe erosions. Dried seeds of volatile oil are added to cloves, and papaya seeds to black pepper. The consumer goods market, including food stuff, cooking oil juices, medicines, etc. in Pakistan are flooded with counterfeit and substandard goods. Traders produce substandard substitutes and market these fake products as genuine to make quick money. This is common practice mostly in suburban areas and the remote rural areas. People of these areas generally have lower awareness about food safety issues and genuine brands. Adulterations in common spices and substandard spice mixes have raised considerable health and food safety concerns amongst consumers. Collective efforts of both private and public stakeholders are required to raise much needed awareness among the general public about this illicit practice of selling substandard food products and their harmful impact on health. Spices play an important role in our daily diet. It is essential that when buying spices, people should always check food packages carefully, and avoid packages that are punctured or appear to have been opened. Consumer should try as far as possible to purchase quality-packaged spices, such as National Foods masalas, with proper informative labeling, from reputable stores. This is a small step that can ensure the good health of consumers and their loved ones.