The wonders of Indiaâ€™s staple spice turmeric seem to just keep popping up.
US scientists announced today that animal studies show turmeric extracts can prevent arthritis and bone loss.
The researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine have said their studies are the first to demonstrate the anti-arthritic effect of turmeric extracts called curcuminoids in living animals.
Several previous studies, including some by Indian researchers, have shown that turmericâ€™s curcumin extract can play a role as an anti-inflammatory agent and as an anti-tumour agent.
In the study reported today in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism, endocrinologist Janet Funk and her colleagues said their experiments also provide the first documentation of a mechanism of action â€” how curcumin-containing extracts protect the animals from arthritis.
The extracts inhibit a substance called NF-KBm which enhances the production of proteins that destroy joints in arthritis.
According to Funk, these findings pave the way for clinical trials required before turmeric supplements can be prescribed routinely to prevent or treat rheumatoid arthritis.
The study also shows that a turmeric extract blocked a biochemical process in the body that influences bone loss.
In women, bone loss usually begins before the onset of menopause. Funk has initiated another study to determine whether turmeric taken as a dietary supplement before menopause can prevent bone loss and osteoporosis.
Indian scientists who have been working on turmeric said they are not surprised by the findings. Scientists at the Institute of Cytology and Preventive Oncology in New Delhi had last year shown that turmeric might help fight the human papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer. Their studies showed that curcumin blocked viral genes.
Three years ago, a team at the National Centre for Cell Science in Pune had revealed possible mechanisms by which curcumin demonstrates its anti-tumour effects.
The effect of curcumin on NF-KB, observed by Funk and her colleagues, suggests that turmeric dietary supplements share the same mechanism of action as anti-arthritic drugs under development. This finding also suggests that turmeric may find applications in other inflammatory diseases such as asthma and inflammatory bowel disease.
(As published in The Telegraph-Calcutta)