The Delight of Curry
Curry is a generic term primarily employed in Western culture to denote a wide variety of dishes originating in Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Thai or other Southeast Asian cuisines. Their common feature is the incorporation of more or less complex combinations of spices / herbs, usually (but not invariably) including fresh or dried hot capsicum peppers, commonly called "chili" or "cayenne" peppers. New research at Oregon State University has discovered that curcumin, a compound found in the cooking spice turmeric used in some curry dishes, 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. Discovery of an alternative mechanism to influence or raise CAMP levels is of scientific interest and could open new research avenues in nutrition and pharmacology, scientists said.
Turmeric is a rhizomatousherbaceousperennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. It is native to tropicalSouth Asia and needs temperatures between 20 °C and 30 °C (68 °F and 86 °F) and a considerable amount of annual rainfall to thrive. Plants are gathered annually for their rhizomes, and propagated from some of those rhizomes in the following season.
When not used fresh, the rhizomes are boiled for several hours and then dried in hot ovens, after which they are ground into a deep orange-yellow powder commonly used as a spice in curries and other South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine, for dyeing, and to impart color to mustard condiments. Its active ingredient is curcumin and it has a distinctly earthy, slightly bitter, slightly hot peppery flavor and a mustardy smell.
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."
"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."
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.
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.
For further information see Curry.
Tumeric image via Wikipedia.