The Spice of Life
Unlocking the Power of CurcuminSeptember 2001
By John C. Martin
Tapping curcumin’s power
There appear to be other promising implications for this seemingly miraculous substance. Research has demonstrated curcumin’s neuroprotective benefits following ethanol-induced brain injury by significantly reversing lipid peroxidation and promoting antioxidants in the brain.16 Scientists have also been successful at suppressing chemically-induced inflammation and hyperplasia—abnormal cell growth that can be a precursor to cancer—in the liver, as demonstrated in rodents.17
Some of the newest studies are pointing to curcumin’s potential as an inhibitor of viral progression in AIDS.18 Researchers at the National Cancer Institute analyzed how curcumin inhibits the activity of integrase in the development of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Integrase is the enzyme that inserts HIV’s genes into a cell’s normal DNA. Based on their observations, the government researchers suggested that new anti-AIDS strategies might have to be developed that point to curcumin as a potent inhibitor of integrase in the development of HIV.
Much earlier studies have examined other causes for curcumin’s anti-HIV activity, such as its ability to inhibit the action of protease, another enzyme in the process of viral development.19
More recently, scientists have examined how curcumin blocks formation of the Epstein-Barr virus (EPV) associated with HIV. The virus can cause such diseases as infectious mononucleosis and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. In one study,20 scientists discovered that treating EPV-infected lymphoid cells with curcumin augmented apoptosis, similar to what has been found in cancer research. “A further investigation of this effect may be useful in prevention and therapy of B-cell lymphoma in immunodeficient patients,” the researchers wrote.
Doctors have even found that curcumin, among other common spices, can prevent bacteria such as E. coli from being destroyed by irradiation.21 The findings, reached in a study from India, carry implications that curcumin and other spice extracts could be used to protect healthy tissue in people undergoing radiation therapy. It is believed that the spices used in the study—red chili powder, black pepper and turmeric—provided their protective effect by blocking the bacteria’s DNA from radiation exposure. The researchers added that there is no cause for concern because irradiation doses typically used to process prepared foods are high enough to kill any E. coli.
Study after study over the past five years has demonstrated the benefits of curcumin, a substance found in turmeric. Used as long as 6,000 years ago by Indians and other cultures as a treatment for a range of ailments, medical experts more recently are beginning to discover its untapped potential.
Medical science has found signs of curcumin’s abilities to fight tumor formation and growth in cancer by inducing the programmed cell death known as apoptosis and inhibiting metastases. Curcumin has also been implicated as an anti-inflammatory, a scavenger of free radicals, a treatment for certain eye diseases and conditions like cataracts, an effective therapy against ethanol-induced brain damage, hyperplasia and as an inhibitor of the human immunodeficiency virus. Before much longer, it may be plausible to think curcumin could spark a medical revolution.