Curry? Don’t Worry! Ancient spice shown to aid inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, debilitating illnesses characterized by chronic recurrent ulceration of the bowel, abdominal pain, digestive problems, diarrhea or constipation. Some research into the cause of IBD has centered on the activation of NF-B, an immune factor involved in inflammation. While some drugs are known to inhibit NF-B, many are expensive and have unwanted side effects. Scientists have also looked into the anti-inflammatory effects of plants as possible alternatives to harsh drugs for the treatment of IBS. One of these is curcumin, a component of the spice turmeric, used in curries and mustard.

A new study now provides the first evaluation of curcumin and its effects on NF- B in an experimental model of IBD. Researchers from Vancouver, BC, in Canada found that mice with colitis who were given curcumin in water showed several improvements over those not treated with curcumin. They report that curcumin inhibited tissue damage and also lessened disease-related weight loss. Curcumin also improved intestinal cell function and reduced ulceration, thickening of the intestinal wall and inflammation.

The researchers conclude that, while it is not clear precisely how curcumin achieves its effects, the research proves that curcumin may prove to be a cheap, well-tolerated, and effective therapy for inflammatory bowel disease. This food ingredient has for generations been regarded as a potent anti-inflammatory within many eastern civilizations and may hold promise for the treatment of IBD in humans.

American Journal of Physiology––Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, July 2003