Focus-Science and Technology - - HEALTH -

This earthy, golden spice comes from the root of a plant in the gin­ger fam­ily and is the main in­gre­di­ent in curry pow­der. Turmeric has been used for medic­i­nal pur­poses for nearly 4,000 years and is billed as be­ing able to cure a daz­zling ar­ray of ail­ments, from arthri­tis to erec­tile dys­func­tion, largely thanks to its main in­gre­di­ent, cur­cumin.

But most clin­i­cal tri­als fea­tur­ing hu­mans have not shown clear ben­e­fits from con­sum­ing turmeric. Cur­cumin is dif­fi­cult to study be­cause it is not ter­ri­bly sta­ble and does not dis­solve eas­ily in wa­ter, which means it can­not be used by the body. In fact, re­search sug­gests that most cur­cumin is likely to travel straight through the di­ges­tive sys­tem, with­out be­ing ab­sorbed. Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal researchers of­ten re­fer to cur­cumin as a ‘false lead’ be­cause it looks amaz­ing on pa­per but is in­ef­fec­tive in re­al­ity.

The key lies in adapt­ing the struc­ture of cur­cumin, or at­tach­ing it to a chem­i­cal trans­porter. In 2011, stroke researchers at the Cedars-Si­nai Med­i­cal Cen­ter, US, found that an adapted cur­cumin struc­ture was able to re­pair stroke dam­age in rab­bits. At the Univer­sity of Illi­nois, a team of researchers have found a way to smug­gle cur­cumin to tar­gets in the body

us­ing plat­inum-based com­pounds. The re­sult is a com­plex that ap­pears to be ef­fec­tive at treat­ing var­i­ous can­cers, in­clud­ing melanoma and breast can­cer.

Sim­i­larly, in lab tests at the Univer­sity of Florida, sci­en­tists have at­tached cur­cumin to nanopar­ti­cles to de­stroy cells from neu­rob­las­toma, a can­cer that is most com­monly di­ag­nosed in chil­dren. The re­search sug­gests that the nanopar­ti­cles kill the can­cer cells, al­though more study is needed to dis­cover if the treat­ment would work in hu­mans.

There is also ev­i­dence that cur­cumin can help with mem­ory prob­lems. A team at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les, se­lected a widely avail­able cur­cumin sup­ple­ment called ther­acur­min for their study on 40 adults with mild mem­ory com­plaints. Par­tic­i­pants took a placebo or 90 mil­ligrams of ther­acur­min twice daily for 18 months. The sup­ple­ment gave the par­tic­i­pants a sig­nif­i­cant mem­ory boost, while PET scans showed lower lev­els of protein plaques in their brain. “We think that the anti-in­flam­ma­tory ef­fects of cur­cumin may be pro­tect­ing the brain,” ex­plains lead re­searcher Dr Gary Small. “We are cur­rently in the plan­ning stage for our next study, which will at­tempt to repli­cate these find­ings and de­ter­mine if cur­cumin’s mood­el­e­vat­ing ef­fects con­trib­ute to the cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits.”

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