Curcumin: a basis for its immune system support and anti-cancer activity?

We’re always fascinated by research that reveals a deeper basis for understanding the health benefits of traditional botanicals. For centuries people have exploited the health-bestowing properties of certain traditional herbs–but now Western lab science intervenes to pinpoint a mechanism behind the health benefit. Here’s a tidbit about curcumin from the iHealth Tube Newsletter, an online resource for alternative/complementary medicine:

The health-boosting activity of curcumin may be due to the molecule’s ability to stabilize cell membranes and increase the cell’s resistance to infection, according to a new study.

The research, published in the prestigious Journal of the American Chemical Society, may help scientists understand how curcumin works inside the body. Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy and colleagues at the University of Michigan used solid-state NMR spectroscopy to show that curcumin physically alters the cell membrane at an atomic level.

Curcumin, the natural pigment that gives the spice turmeric its yellow color, has increasingly come under the scientific spotlight in recent years, with studies investigating its potential benefits for reducing cholesterol levels, improving cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and for its potential protection against cancer.

According to Ramamoorthy, curcumin can induce a negative curvature of the membrane, which would explain the potential anti-cancer activity of the compound, since other studies have shown that such changes may increase the activity of proteins such as tBid, which play an important role in apoptosis, or programmed cell death.

Using solid-state NMR spectroscopy, Ramamoorthy and his co-workers report that molecules of curcumin insert themselves into cell membranes and make the membranes more stable and orderly. This makes the cells more resistant to infection by disease-causing microbes, they added. The study, supported by funds from the National Institutes of Health, also revealed that curcumin exerts this strong effect on the membrane structure at low concentrations.

Journal of the American Chemical Society 131(12):4490-4498, 2009



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