Natural Foods Merchandiser

The Case for Curry: Turmeric as Medical Treatment

The spice that gives curry its yellow color could give retailers an infusion of green. In two separate studies released recently, curcumin, an ingredient in turmeric, has been shown to correct a defective protein that causes cystic fibrosis, and prevent the oxidation that often leads to Alzheimer?s disease and other illnesses involving cognitive decline.

Cystic fibrosis, a fatal genetic disease, occurs when the lungs and pancreas become severely clogged with thick mucus. The congestion stems from the failure of a protein, called CFTR, to enable the cells of a person?s airways and gastrointestinal tract to secrete certain ions and fluid. Usually this happens because CFTR is trapped inside the cell and unable to function properly.

Researchers at the Hospital for Sick Children (affiliated with the University of Toronto) and Yale University School of Medicine found that in mice, curcumin could release CFTR from the cell. ?After having received curcumin treatment, mice with the genetic defect that causes [cystic fibrosis] survived at a rate almost equal to normal mice,? said Gergely Lukacs, one of the lead researchers from the Toronto team. The researchers plan to study curcumin?s potential as a drug.

Curcumin has also been shown previously to be a powerful antioxidant. And since oxidative damage is often found in people with Alzheimer?s disease, researchers at South Africa?s Rhodes University set out to determine whether it could protect against the oxidative effects of heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium. The scientists found that curcumin significantly inhibited damage to brain neurons exposed to these metals and could be developed as a treatment against neurotoxicity.

Teams of American and Italian scientists collaborated on a similar study, which showed that curcumin stimulates the release of HO-1, a central nervous system protein that defends neurons against oxidation. The research, which was presented at the American Physiological Society?s conference in April, also found that curcumin protects cells in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 6/p. 22

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