Curcumin is the principle ingredient of tumeric or “haldi” as it is called in Hindi. This is the spice that gives Indian curries their bright yellow color. The tumeric root (a relative of ginger) has long been thought to have all kinds of medicinal properties, and growing up in India, I remember my mother treating boils and abscesses on our household pets with tumeric paste. Curcumin is supposed to not only have antibiotic, antiinflammatory, antiarthritic, antioxidant and anticancer properties, regular consumption is also alleged to increase brain power.
Now, a study by Asma Ejaz and colleagues from Tufts University, Boston, MA, USA, just published in the Journal of Nutrition, suggests that curcumin may also reduce fat formation by blocking the angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels) necessary for the expansion of adipose tissue and by positively changing fat cell metabolism.
The researchers studied the effect of curcumin both on cultured 3T3-L1 adipocytes as well as in mice fed a high-fat diet.
In cell culture studies, curcumin supressed preadipocyte differentiation, promoted adipocyte apoptosis (programmed cell death) and inhibited growth of adipokine-stimulated angiogenesis.
Consistent with these findings, in the high-fat fed mice, over 12 weeks, curcumin did not affect food intake but reduced body weight gain, adiposity, and microvessel density in adipose tissue. Curcumin also increased expression of key enzymes involved in fat oxidation. Blood cholesterol levels were also lowered by curcumin treatment.
Leaping from mouse to man, the authors speculate that dietary curcumin may not only help prevent obesity but may also have favourable effects on fat metabolism.
How much of an impact this finding may have on the obesity epidemic remains to be seen – clearly, eating a daily dose of curry (as most Indians do) is not a sure bet when it comes to preventing obesity as evidenced by the burgeoning obesity epidemic in India (but who knows, perhaps the Indian obesity epidemic would be far worse without the curry?)
In any case, I am certainly happy for any excuse to stop by my favourite Indian restaurants.