Turmeric has been used as a medicinal food for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. We have discussed its ability to slow cancer growth, help prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, help resolve Lichen Panus, and reduce type-2 diabetes.
More recently, research has confirmed that the central medicinal compound in turmeric – curcumin – blocks the growth of the zika virus, hepatitis, herpes, chikungunya virus, influenza-A, HIV and HPV.
These are all serious viruses. Collectively, they affect hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Some of these viruses are transmitted by mosquitoes. For example, zika and the chikungunya viruses are transmitted by the Aedes species of mosquito. Last year, researchers found that zika is linked with birth defects such as microcephaly. Zika virus has recently spread from South and Central America into Southern states in the U.S., including Texas and Florida.
The chikungunya virus is also spreading in South and Central America. This virus will cause joint pain, high fevers, rashes and sometimes even death.
There are no vaccines for either zika or chikungunya viruses. There are also no real treatments either.
One of the problems with these viruses is due to the viral cell being enveloped. They have glycoprotein shells that make them more durable and difficult to breakdown by the body’s immune system.
Are there any natural strategies for protection?
As far as mosquito-related viruses: There are a number of natural mosquito repellents to consider. Especially if you live or are traveling to a location that has zika or chikungunya or any number of other mosquito-transmitted diseases. A 2017 study from the University Malaya found that essential oils including some of the below were as effective as DEET (N,N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) in deterring mosquito bites. Here is a list of natural mosquito repellents:
• Citronella oil
• Tea tree oil
• Eucalyptus oil
• Neem oil
• Thyme oil
• Cinnamon oil
• Lavender oil
• Garlic (internal and external)
• Rosemary oil
• Clove oil
• Castor oil
• Citrus oil
Turmeric extract inhibits enveloped viruses
To this list we can now add turmeric as a potent antiviral herb. Research has found that turmeric’s central extracted compound, curcumin, blocks the growth of zika and chikungunya and other enveloped viruses.
Researchers from France’s prestigious Pasteur Institute researched the ability of curcumin to inhibit these viruses. They found that not only does curcumin inhibit the viruses, but it interfered with the virus’ ability to continue infecting cells.
Curcumin also accomplished this in a dose-dependent manner. This means that the larger the dose, the more inhibition was exerted and vice versa. This is considered the gold standard in determining effectiveness of a compound.
Furthermore, the researchers found that the curcumin interfered with the virus’ ability to bind to cells. A virus must bind to a cell in order to infect it. This binding also helps the virus transmit itself to other parts of the body. The virus will often utilize the cell’s organs and even DNA to help it spread.
Turmeric’s central compound curcumin blocks these by blocking the virus’ ability to bind to cells in the first place.
The researchers confirmed their findings:
“We observed that direct treatment of virus with curcumin reduced infectivity of virus in a dose- and time-dependent manner for these enveloped viruses, as well as vesicular stomatitis virus.”
The vesicular stomatitis virus belongs in the same family as rabies. It is also an enveloped virus and it has been particularly hard to prevent its spread among animals.
The researchers also mentioned that this latest study adds to the list of viruses that curcumin has been found to inhibit:
“Together, these results expand the family of viruses sensitive to curcumin and provide a mechanism of action for curcumin’s effect on these enveloped viruses.”
Let’s discuss some of these other viruses inhibited by curcumin.
Curcumin inhibits hepatitis
A study published in Lancet, the British Journal of Medicine, found that turmeric’s curcumin blocks the entry of hepatitis C virus into human liver cells. This is a critical issue because hepatitis C infects the liver and liver cells.
This study found that curcumin disturbed the outer envelop of the viral cells. The researchers stated:
“Membrane fluidity experiments indicated that curcumin affected the fluidity of the HCV envelope resulting in impairment of viral binding and fusion.”
The researchers also concluded:
“Turmeric curcumin inhibits HCV entry independently of the genotype and in primary human hepatocytes by affecting membrane fluidity thereby impairing virus binding and fusion.”
A study from Israel’s The Institute of Gastroenterology and Liver Disease at the Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center studied curcumin and the hepatitis B virus. They found that that curcumin inhibits hepatitis B by stopping replication gene expression.
The Israeli researchers commented:
“We suggest curcumin as a host targeted therapy for HBV infection that may complement current virus-specific therapies.”
Curcumin inhibits influenza-A virus
Research from Taiwan’s Graduate Institute of Microbiology and Public Health at the National Chung Hsing University studied turmeric and curcumin on influenza type A. They found that curcumin inhibits this influenza – one of the major flu viruses.
The researchers found that it interferes with the virus’ haemagglutination activity. This means that it blocks the virus’ ability to bind onto red blood cells.
Curcumin inhibits HIV-1 virus
As far back as 1995, researchers discovered that curcumin somehow inhibited the HIV virus. Since then dozens of studies have confirmed this ability. Newer research has also determined that curcumin will prevent the virus’ infection at the site. Researchers from Canada’s McMaster University found that applying curcumin onto genital skin cells prevented infection from HIV across the mucosal membranes.
Researchers from India’s National Institute of Immunology found that curcumin inhibited HIV-1 production by infected cells – preventing the infection from spreading. They also found that curcumin breaks down a protein that binds with the virus – leaving the virus unable to be viable.
Clinical research on curcumin and HIV is limited. A 1995 study of 40 AIDS patients didn’t find decreased viral loads, but the patients said they felt better after 8 weeks of taking the curcumin. Researchers since have noted that curcumin’s effects may be more subtle and take longer to see reduced viral loads.
Meanwhile, other studies have since concluded curcumin inhibits HIV infection and replication.
Curcumin inhibits herpes
Researchers from Michigan State University studied curcumin and herpes simplex-1. They found that curcumin blocked the virus by interfering in the virus’ early gene expression. This gene expression is required in order for the virus to replicate among cells. The researchers concluded:
“Curcumin is a potent compound with various biological properties. We have shown that curcumin significantly affects HSV-1 IE gene expression which thereby diminishes the ability of the virus to launch the lytic infectious cycle.”
McMaster University researchers also found that curcumin blocked the spread of herpes simplex-1 and herpes simplex-2 viruses. The research found that curcumin prevented replication of the herpes viruses among infected T-cells.
Research from India’s Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute studied 287 women who were HVP-positive. The researchers randomly divided the women into four groups. One group was given vaginal basant cream containing curcumin. Another group was treated with vaginal placebo cream. Another group was treated with curcumin vaginal capsules. The fourth group was given placebo capsules.
The researchers found that 87 percent of the women treated with the basant-curcumin cream were cleared of HPV. The curcumin capsule-treated women experienced a 81 percent HPV clearance rate.
Curcumin’s mysterious nature
As evidenced above, many studies have confirmed that curcumin has the ability to help remediate symptoms among patients infected with viral conditions. This adds to the many other benefits of curcumin.
The ability of curcumin to affect so many conditions has been a mystery among clinical researchers:
“How a single agent can possess these diverse effects has been an enigma over the years, both for basic scientists and clinicians.”
How much curcumin does turmeric contain?
We should note that all of the above research has tested curcumin and not turmeric per se. A pure turmeric powder made from turmeric roots (Curcuma longa) contains only a small fraction of curcumin. Furthermore, turmeric is an ingredient of curry powder. So curry powder will contain even less curcumin.
Turmeric contains about 2 to 4 percent curcumin. A 2006 study from Jordan’s Hashemite University analyzed 28 products that were labeled either as turmeric or curry powder.
The researchers found that pure turmeric powder had the highest curcumin content. The average curcumin content among the different turmeric powders was 3.14 percent by weight.
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