Canadian and U.S. researchers report in the journal Science today that feeding a key component of turmeric, called curcumin, to mice makes symptoms of the disease disappear. Turmeric, the bright yellow spice common in curries, appears to have potent medicinal power that could help alleviate cystic fibrosis, a debilitating disease that hits one in every 2,500 Canadian children.
While encouraged by the results, the doctors stress more study is needed to find out if curcumin will have the same healing power in people.
"We don't know how well these results will translate to people," says Dr. Michael Caplan at Yale University.
"We don't know what high doses of this stuff will do to people, we don't know if there are any long-term side-effects and we especially don't know if this stuff will interact with any of the many medications that CF patients have to take."
He also stressed commercial sources of curcumin can vary widely. "There is no quality control in terms of the composition and what else might be in the preparation," Caplan said. "So I would encourage people to be patient," report canada.com
According to newscientist.com the researchers gave the animals 45 mg of curcumin per kilogram of body weight for three days. The equivalent quantity is known to be well-tolerated in humans. They found that the animals' gut problems largely disappeared. There were also changes in electrical potential across the nasal epithelium, suggesting that the respiratory system was also improving. And while six of the 10 untreated mice died of intestinal problems within 10 weeks, only one curcumin-treated mouse died.
Caplan cautions that this does not necessarily mean that curcumin will work in humans. He notes that Asian people do have a much lower incidence of the disease, but says this may have more to do with population genetics than with more turmeric in their diet.
"It is exciting from the point of view of science and cautiously hopeful from the point of view of medicine," says Neil Sweezey, at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. One reason for optimism, he says, is that you may not need to get much of the protein working to significantly improve a patient's health.
Cystic fibrosis is just the latest disease that research has shown might be alleviated by turmeric. Others include inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, alchohol-related liver disease and, most recently, Alzheimer's disease.
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969