The humble turmeric, a popular spice used in Indian curries, can help you keep infections at bay as one of its key compounds has been found boosting the immune system, scientists claim.
Researchers in Oregon State University in the US found that curcumin, a major component of turmeric, causes a sizable increase in a protein, called cathelicidin anti-microbial peptide (CAMP), which boosts the body's immune system. It helps the body to fight bacteria and viruses including those that cause tuberculosis even if it has not encountered them before, the researchers said.
Prof Adrian Gombart, who led the study, said: "Curcumin is generally consumed in the diet at fairly low levels." "However, it's possible that sustained consumption over time may be healthy and help protect against infection, especially in the stomach and intestinal tract," Gombart was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
"This research points to a new avenue for regulating CAMP gene expression. It's interesting and somewhat surprising that curcumin can do that, and could provide another tool to develop medical therapies." he added. Prof Gombart said the impact of curcumin wasn't nearly as potent as that of vitamin D, but it still has physiological value.
Curcumin is also thought to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. In their study, published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, Prof Gombart and his colleague Chunxiao Guo had looked at the potential of both curcumin and omega-3 fatty acids to increase expression of the CAMP gene. They found no increase with the omega-3 fatty acids, but curcumin caused levels of CAMP to almost triple.
Vitamin D has been studied intently in recent years for its potential therapeutic benefits in treating a range of diseases including cancer. Prof Gombart said that any alternative ways of eliciting the same biological response merited further research. Turmeric has been used for 2500 years as a medicinal compound and also in religious ceremonies, as well as being a favourite ingredient in curry.