(NaturalNews) In addition to being the seasoning that provides flavor to Indian curries, the yellow-gold spice known as turmeric (Curcuma longa Linn.) has long been an important part of traditional Asian medicine. Throughout countless centuries, herbalists have prescribed it to treat gastrointestinal problems, lack of energy, arthritis pain and other conditions. Modern day Western medicine has recently taken a serious look at the spice and, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), demonstrated the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer properties of turmeric and its major polyphenol (a type of phytochemical), curcumin. Now researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University (USDA HNRCA) have found another possible benefit of turmeric. The curcumin it contains appears to reduce weight gain and suppress the growth of fat tissue.
The new research, just published in the May 2009 issue of The Journal of Nutrition, does not involve humans but it does provide tantalizing clues that turmeric could be helpful in the fight against obesity. Tufts scientists studied mice fed high fat diets supplemented with curcumin from turmeric and they also investigated cell cultures incubated with curcumin. The phytochemical reduced weight gain in curcumin-supplemented mice. Moreover, it suppressed the growth of fat tissue in both the lab animals and in cell models.
"Weight gain is the result of the growth and expansion of fat tissue, which cannot happen unless new blood vessels form, a process known as angiogenesis," said senior author Mohsen Meydani, DVM, PhD, director of the Vascular Biology Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA, in a statement to the media. "Based on our data, curcumin appears to suppress angiogenic activity in the fat tissue of mice fed high fat diets."
Dr. Meydani and his research team fed lab mice a high fat diet for 12 weeks. One group of the animals eating the high fat diet also received curcumin while a control group did not. Both groups ate the same amount of food, which showed that the curcumin didn't change the appetite of the mice. However, the rodents fed the curcumin supplemented diet did not gain as much weight as the mice that didn't eat any curcumin.
"Curcumin appeared to be responsible for total lower body fat in the group that received supplementation," Dr. Meydani, professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, said in the press statement. "In those mice, we observed a suppression of micro vessel density in fat tissue, a sign of less blood vessel growth and thus less expansion of fat. We also found lower blood cholesterol levels and fat in the liver of those mice. In general, angiogenesis and an accumulation of lipids in fat cells contribute to fat tissue growth."
In addition, the scientists found similar results in cell cultures. And, according to their published study, their data suggests curcumin has the ability to interfere with the expression of two genes which contribute to angiogenesis progression in both cell and rodent models.
"We have no way of telling whether curcumin could prevent fat tissue growth in humans," Dr. Meydani said in the press statement. "The mechanism or mechanisms by which curcumin appears to affect fat tissue must be investigated in a randomized, clinical trial involving humans."
Reference: Ejaz A, Wu, D, Kwan P, and Meydani M. Journal of Nutrition. May 2009; 139 (5): 1042-1048. Curcumin Inhibits Adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 Adipocytes and Angiogenesis and Obesity in C57/BL Mice. 919-925.
Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.