Oregon State University scientists just identified a new reason why some curry dishes, made with spices humans have used for thousands of years, might be good for you.
New research has discovered that curcumin, a compound found in the cooking spice turmeric, can cause a modest but measurable increase in levels of a protein that’s known to be important in the “innate” immune system, helping to prevent infection in humans and other animals.
This cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide, or CAMP, is part of what helps our immune system fight off various bacteria, viruses or fungi even though they hadn’t been encountered before. Prior to this, it was known that CAMP levels were increased by vitamin D.
Discovery of an alternative mechanism to influence or raise CAMP levels is of scientific interest and could open new research avenues in nutrition and pharmacology, scientists said.
Turmeric is a flavorful, orange-yellow spice and an important ingredient in many curries, commonly found in Indian, South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine. It has also been used for 2,500 years as a medicinal compound in the Ayurvedic system of medicine in India — not to mention being part of some religious and wedding ceremonies. In India, turmeric is treated with reverence.
The newest findings were made by researchers in the Linus Pauling Institute at OSU and published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, in collaboration with scientists from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health.
The scientists tested turmeric, also known as curcumin, along with phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), a naturally occurring substance particularly abundant in a group of vegetables that includes watercress, cabbage, winter cress, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, kohlrabi and turnips. “The bottom line is that PEITC and curcumin, alone or in combination, demonstrate significant cancer-preventive qualities in laboratory mice, and the combination of PEITC and curcumin could be effective in treating established prostate cancers,” said Ah-Ng Tony Kong, a professor of pharmaceutics at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
Turmeric is a yellow spice used widely in Indian cooking. US researchers have found that curcumin, an active compound found in turmeric, helped stop the spread of breast cancer tumour cells to the lungs in mice.
“Tests have already started in people, too”, said Bharat Aggarwal of the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Texas Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston, who led the study.
“Here you don’t need to worry about safety. The only thing we have to worry about is efficacy,” Aggarwal said in a telephone interview.
“Curcumin, as you know, is very much an essential part of the Indian diet,” he added.