Turmeric, the bright yellow of the spice rainbow, is well known for its health properties. But the humble spice may be even more powerful than first thought, with a new study claiming that it may be able to help fight drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB).
A group of experts from Colorado and China have discovered that a compound responsible for the yellow-orange color of turmeric called curcumin, a polyphenol, can kill the bacteria that causes TB.
Scientists found that by stimulating human immune cells called macrophages, curcumin was able to successfully remove mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes tuberculosis, from experimentally infected cells in culture.
Tubercluosis is one of the leading causes of death worldwide by an infectious agent, and is spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person.
TB mainly affects the lungs but it can also affect any part of the body, including the glands, bones and nervous system. According to the World Health Organization, one-third of the world’s population is infected with TB and in 2014 alone, 9.6 million became sick with the disease – and 1.5 million died from TB.
In Asia, turmeric, which comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant, is used as anti-inflammatory agent to treat a wide variety of conditions, including flatulence, jaundice, menstrual difficulties, toothache, bruises, chest pain and colic.
The new findings could lead to potential new TB treatments that would be less prone to the development of drug resistance.
Lead study author Dr Xiyuan Bai, of the University of Colorado, Denver admitted that the protective role of curcumin to fight drug-resistant tuberculosis still needs confirmation.
However, Dr Bai feels confident that if “if validated, curcumin may become a novel treatment to modulate the host immune response to overcome drug-resistant tuberculosis”.
The research was first published in the journal Respirology.