Scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark have discovered that curcumin, a compound found in the cooking spice turmeric, may have a benefit for the immune system.
Curcumin 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 though they hadn’t been encountered before. Prior to this, it was known that CAMP levels were increased by vitamin D.
Turmeric is an aromatic bright 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.
“Curcumin, as part of turmeric, is generally consumed in the diet at fairly low levels,” said Adrian Gombart, an associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the Linus Pauling Institute. “However, it’s possible that sustained consumption over time may be healthy and help protect against infection, especially in the stomach and intestinal tract.”
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.
In the present research, curcumin was shown to increase activity of the gene responsible for producing CAMP in human white blood cells, an effect that enhances the ability of white blood cells to fight a wide range of infections.
Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, “Curcumin induces human cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide gene expression through a vitamin D receptor-independent pathway” Guo, Chunxiao, Rosoha, Elena, Lowry, Malcolm B., Borregaard, Niels, Gombart, Adrian F., Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University
The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health.