Spicy pill

Turmeric to treat cystic fibrosis

 
Published: Monday 31 May 2004

turmeric can help combat cystic fibrosis, a fatal disease. People develop cystic fibrosis when they inherit two copies of a defective gene, delta f508, which leaves an important cell protein 'misfolded'. The protein, though functional, is prevented by a cell's quality control agents from taking its rightful place at the cell surface and is instead trapped inside. Without the protein at the surface, salt has trouble moving in and out of cells. The end result is that mucous in the airways and digestive tract becomes very thick and sticky. Bacteria get trapped and cannot be expelled through the nose and mouth, and nutrients cannot be absorbed in the gut. People suffering from cystic fibrosis live for 32 years on an average.

Researchers from us-based Yale University reasoned that if the quality control mechanism is disabled, the protein might be allowed to get to the cell surface. Working at the lab of the University of Toronto, Canada, they discovered that curcumin, a component of turmeric, makes it possible for the protein to escape to the cell surface by starving the inspector proteins of calcium.

To cross-check their findings, the team conducted a series of experiments on mice suffering from cystic fibrosis-like disorder. Some of the animals were given 45 milligrammes of curcumin per kilogramme of body weight for three days, as humans can tolerate an equivalent quantity. After 10 weeks of the treatment, six of the 10 mice not given curcumin died of intestinal problems. But apart from one, all the treated mice were able to survive. Moreover, their gut problems disappeared. Improvement was seen in the functioning of the nasal epithelium, suggesting their respiratory system too had recovered (Science, Vol 304, No 5671, April 30, 2004).

The researchers have now collaborated with the us Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to conduct human clinical trials. But they caution that it is not necessary that curcumin will work in all humans. They note that Asian people have a much lower incidence of the disease than the rest of the world. This may be due to their genetic structure rather than the high consumption of turmeric.

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