March 9, 2009

How turmeric protects health

Curcumin, turmeric's main ingredient, inserts itself into cell membranes and makes them more orderly and resistant to infection, U.S. researchers said.

University of Michigan researchers led by Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy said the membrane goes from being crazy and floppy to being more disciplined and ordered, so information flow through it can be controlled.

Probing high-resolution intermolecular interactions in the messy membrane environment has been a major challenge to commonly-used biophysical techniques, Ramamoorthy said in a statement.

The research group developed the two-dimensional solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance technique used to probe curcumin-membrane communication in this study, Ramamoorthy said.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, said scientists have speculated that curcumin does its health-promoting work by interacting directly with membrane proteins, but the University of Michigan findings challenge that notion and the researchers found that curcumin regulates the action of membrane proteins indirectly, by changing the physical properties of the membrane.

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.