Turmeric, a spice found in many curry powder blends, might be the key to fighting drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis.
Previous studies have suggested that turmeric, which is often used as an anti-inflammatory in Asian countries, might have anticancer properties. In this new study, researchers set out to examine how a particular substance found in turmeric, called curcumin, can be used to treat TB strains that have grown resistant to common antibiotics.
The researchers tested out the effects of curcumin in the laboratory setting and found that after stimulating macrophages, which are cells from the body's immune system, the substance was able to remove Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes TB, through a process that involved preventing the activation of nuclear factor-kappa B. This process removed the bacterium from the cells that were infected during the experiment.
"Our study has provided basic evidence that curcumin protects against Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection in human cells," said Dr. Xiyuan Bai, lead author of the study. "The protective role of curcumin to fight drug-resistant tuberculosis still needs confirmation, but if validated, curcumin may become a novel treatment to modulate the host immune response to overcome drug-resistant tuberculosis."
If the findings, which were published in the journal Respirology, can be replicated, using turmeric to fight TB can be a game changer. Although TB does not affect as many people today as it did during the 1800s, a recent report by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that for the first time in 23 years, cases of new TB in the U.S. increased last year.
In 2015, there was an increase in new cases by 157 with a total of 9,563. The majority of the cases were seen in foreign-born people living in the U.S. CDC officials could not determine what caused progress against TB to stall but they stressed the need to expand and create new programs to get the number of TB cases to decline once again.
"It's always concerning when we see progress stall - especially when there are proven interventions to prevent a disease," said Tom Frieden, who is the director of the CDC.
TB is an infection that affects the lungs. Although antibiotic treatments are effective, TB can lead to deadly consequences in people with other health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and HIV.