Like curry? New biological role identified for compound used in ancient medicine

May 25, 2012, Oregon State University

Scientists have 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 at Oregon State University 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 antimicrobial peptide, or CAMP, is part of what helps our immune system fight off various bacteria, viruses or even though they hadn't been encountered before.

Prior to this, it was known that CAMP levels were increased by . Discovery of an alternative mechanism to influence or raise CAMP levels is of scientific interest and could open new research avenues in nutrition and , 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 today 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.

"This research points to a new avenue for regulating CAMP gene expression," said Adrian Gombart, an associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the Linus Pauling Institute. "It's interesting and somewhat surprising that curcumin can do that, and could provide another tool to develop medical therapies."

The impact of curcumin in this role is not nearly as potent as that of vitamin D, Gombart said, but could nonetheless have physiologic value. Curcumin has also been studied for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

"Curcumin, as part of , is generally consumed in the diet at fairly low levels," Gombart said. "However, it's possible that sustained consumption over time may be healthy and help protect against infection, especially in the stomach and intestinal tract."

In this study, Chunxiao Guo, a graduate student, and Gombart looked at the potential of both curcumin and omega-3 fatty acids to increase expression of the CAMP gene. They found no particular value with the omega-3 fatty acids for this purpose, but curcumin did have a clear effect. It caused levels of CAMP to almost triple.

There has been intense scientific interest in the vitamin D receptor in recent years because of potential therapeutic benefits in treating infection, cancer, psoriasis and other diseases, the researchers noted in their report. An alternative way to elicit a related biological response could be significant and merits additional research, they said.

The CAMP peptide is the only known antimicrobial peptide of its type in humans, researchers said. It appears to have the ability to kill a broad range of bacteria, including those that cause tuberculosis and protect against the development of sepsis.

Explore further: Curcumin shows promise in attacking Parkinson's disease

Related Stories

Curcumin shows promise in attacking Parkinson's disease

March 20, 2012
Curcumin, a compound found in the spice turmeric, is proving effective at preventing clumping of a protein involved in Parkinson's disease, says a Michigan State University researcher.

Recommended for you

Scientists uncover new gatekeeper function of anti-aging molecule

November 12, 2018
The protein klotho has been shown to promote longevity and counteract aging-related impairments. Having more klotho seems to allow for longer and healthier lives, whereas a depletion of this molecule accelerates aging and ...

Can scientists change mucus to make it easier to clear, limiting harm to lungs?

November 12, 2018
For healthy people, mucus is our friend. It traps potential pathogens so our airways can dispatch nasty bugs before they cause harm to our lungs. But for people with conditions such as cystic fibrosis (CF) and chronic obstructive ...

Mutations, CRISPR, and the biology behind movement disorders

November 12, 2018
Scientists at the RIKEN Center for Brain Science (CBS) in Japan have discovered how mutations related to a group of movement disorders produce their effects. Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the ...

Researchers explain how your muscles form

November 12, 2018
All vertebrates need muscles to function; they are the most abundant tissue in the human body and are integral to movement.

Defective DNA damage repair leads to chaos in the genome

November 12, 2018
Scientists at the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) have now found a cause for frequent catastrophic events in the genetic material of cancer cells that have only been known for a few ...

Salmonella found to be resistant to different classes of antibiotics

November 12, 2018
Brazil's Ministry of Health received reports of 11,524 outbreaks of foodborne diseases between 2000 and 2015, with 219,909 individuals falling sick and 167 dying from such diseases. Bacteria caused most outbreaks of such ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Howard_Vickridge
5 / 5 (1) May 25, 2012
More CAMP is always more faaaabulous :-)
Argiod
not rated yet May 25, 2012
I knew there was a good reason why I love curry so much.
At 65yo, I can testify that my immune system is still working as well as it did in my youth. I can also testify to my overwhelming love of curry, and other hot spices.

I currently embrace the Bhut Jolokia (ghost chili) as my favorite spice, and eat it almost every day, in one dish or another.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.