Discovery seen as pathway for new medical treatments
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Along with being the perfect foil for a frosty Singha beer, eating spicy Thai or Indian curry might just boost your immune system.
Scientists at Oregon State University have 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 if they hadn’t been encountered before.
The effect of the peptide is similar to the previously known benefits of vitamin D.
“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 at OSU. “It’s interesting and somewhat surprising that curcumin can do that, and could provide another tool to develop medical therapies.”
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 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 turmeric, 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.”
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.