The cooking spice turmeric is not only a vital ingredient in many curries, it has also been used for 2,500 years as a medicinal compound in the Ayurvedic system of medicine in India. Now, researchers have discovered that a compound found in the spice called curcumin can increase the levels of a protein known to be vital in the “innate” immune system.

Cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide (CAMP) is a major component in the immune system that helps our bodies fight off various viruses, bacteria or fungi.

Although earlier studies have demonstrated that vitamin D increases CAMP levels, researchers are interested in finding an alternative mechanism to influence or increase CAMP levels.

The study, conducted by researchers in the in collaboration with researchers from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, is published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Adrian Gombart, an associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the Linus Pauling Institute, explained: “This research points to a new avenue for regulating CAMP gene expression. It’s interesting and somewhat surprising that curcumin can do that, and could provide another tool to develop medical therapies.”

Although, curcumin does not increase CAMP levels as significantly as vitamin D, it could have physiologic value, said Gombart. Researchers have also studied the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of cur cumin.

Gombart said:

“Curcumin, as part of turmeric, is generally consumed in the diet at fairly low levels. However, it’s possible that sustained consumption over time may be healthy and protect against infection, especially in the stomach and intestinal tract.”

The researchers set out to determine whether curcumin and omega-3 fatty acids can increase CAMP levels. They found that curcumin increased levels by almost three-fold whereas omega-3 fatty acids did not.

The CAMP peptide, which is the only known antimicrobial peptide of its type in humans, appears to have the ability to destroy a variety of bacteria, including those that cause tuberculosis and protect against the development of sepsis.

Written By Grace Rattue