ingredient makes for better health
Revered in India as "holy powder," the marigold-colored
spice known as turmeric has been used for centuries
to treat wounds, infections and other health problems.
In recent years, research into the healing powers
of turmeric's main ingredient, curcumin, has
burgeoned, as its astonishing array of antioxidant,
anti-cancer, antibiotic, antiviral and other
properties has been revealed.
University of Michigan researchers led by Ayyalusamy
Ramamoorthy have discovered that curcumin acts as a
disciplinarian, inserting itself into cell membranes and
making them more orderly, a move that improves cells'
resistance to infection and malignancy.
"The membrane goes from being crazy and floppy to being more
disciplined and ordered, so that information flow through it
can be controlled," said Ramamoorthy, a professor of
chemistry and biophysics.
The research project melds Ramamoorthy's past with his
current scientific interests. As a child in India, he was
given turmeric-laced milk to drink when he had a cold,
and he breathed steam infused with turmeric to relieve
The researchers found that curcumin regulates the action of
membrane proteins indirectly, by changing the physical
properties of the membrane.
In a related line of research, Ramamoorthy's team is using
the same methods to investigate the effects of curcumin on
the formation of amyloids-clumps of fibrous protein believed
to be involved in type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease,
Parkinson's disease, and many other maladies. In
addition, the researchers are looking to see whether other
natural products, such as polyphenols (compounds found in
many plant foods that are known to have antioxidant
properties) and capsaicin (a pain reliever derived from hot
peppers), interact with membranes in the same way as
University of Michigan
Journal of the American Chemical Society
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