Before now, turmeric was known for its efficacy in treating chronic diseases like cancer, arthritis, liver damage, diabetes and cancer. But recent studies have shown that the spice could be used to develop novel antibiotic against pathogens resistant to conventional drugs.
World leaders are presently gathered in New York, United States for the 71th United Nations General Assembly. Top on the agenda is how to tackle the widespread antibiotic resistance that has made diseases like gonorrhea and Staphylococcus untreatable.
But India researchers have demonstrated how extracts from the rhizome of turmeric could be used to stop multi-drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Turmeric is a spice that comes from the root of Curcuma longa, a member of the ginger family, Zingaberaceae. In traditional medicine, turmeric has been used for its medicinal properties for various indications and through different routes of administration, including topically, orally, and by inhalation.
In Nigeria, it is called atale pupa in Yoruba; gangamau in Hausa; nwandumo in Ebonyi; ohu boboch in Enugu (Nkanu East); gigir in Tiv; magina in Kaduna; turi in Niger State; onjonigho in Cross River (Meo tribe).
Turmeric, also known as curcuma, produces a root that is used to produce the vibrant yellow spice used as a culinary spice so often used in curry dishes. One of its components is curcumin, a type of phytochemical known as a polyphenol. Research findings suggest that phytochemicals, which are the chemicals found in plants, appear to help prevent disease. As the bioactive component of turmeric, curcumin is readily absorbed for use by the body.
Though native to India and parts of Asia, and is a relative of cardamom and ginger, turmeric has been domesticated in Nigeria.
Several medical properties have been attributed to Curcuma longa. The rhizome is known to possess therapeutic activities and has been used by medical practitioners as an anti-diabetic, hypo-lipidemic, anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrhoeal, hepato-protective, anti-asthmatic and anti-cancerous drug. Curcuma longa is widely used in cosmetology.
Nosocomial infections are hospital-acquired infections. Historically, staphylococci, pseudomonads, and Escherichia coli have been the nosocomial infection troika. It is estimated that in United States in 1995, nosocomial infections cost $4.5 billion and contributed to more than 88,000 deaths--one death every six minutes. In the study from 1990 to 1996, the three most common gram-positive pathogens--Staphylococcus aureus, coagulase-negative staphylococci, and enterococci-- accounted for 34 per cent of nosocomial infections, and the four most common gram-negative pathogens--Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Enterobacter spp., and Klebsiella pneumoniae--accounted for 32 per cent of nosocomial infections.
It has been shown that the major force involved in nosocomial infections was indiscriminate antimicrobial use in hospitals and long-term healthcare facilities. Widespread use of cephalosporin antibiotics is often cited as a cause of the emergence of MRSA, which became a major nosocomial threat.
Staphylococcus aureus has been shown to exhibit resistance to wide range of commonly available antibiotics especially penicillin and Methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) is a major nosocomial pathogen. According to a study, the MRSA prevalence has increased from 12 per cent in 1992 to 80.83 percent in 1999.
In addition to this problem, antibiotics are sometimes associated with adverse effects on the host including hypersensitivity, immune-suppression and allergic reactions. Because of the side effects and the resistance that pathogenic microorganisms build against antibiotics, recently much attention has been paid to extracts and biologically active compounds isolated from plant species used in herbal medicine.
Coincidentally, the last decade has also witnessed increasing intensive studies on extracts and biologically active compounds isolated from plant species used for natural therapies or herbal medicine.
The new study published in Biotechnology Reports concluded: "Thus, in this study, the efficiency of turmeric fractions, such as petroleum ether, chloroform, benzene, methanol and aqueous were evaluated for their inhibitory effect on clinical and standard strains of pathogenic bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. The methanolic fraction of Curcuma longa rhizome had high potential to inhibit some pathogenic bacteria Stahylococcus aureus to a greater degree than other fractions of Curcuma longa. In our study the results show that the different fractions (petroleum ether, methanol etc.) of Curcuma longa rhizome was more effective antimicrobial agents than the crude extract of Curcuma longa."
The study is titled "Evaluation of antimicrobial activity of Curcuma longa rhizome extract against Staphylococcus aureus."
The researchers wrote: "The in vitro antimicrobial activity of different fractions obtained from rhizome of Curcuma longa was investigated against standard strain and clinical isolates of Staphylococcus aureus. The clinical isolates were found more sensitive for different fractions, than the standard strain of Staphylococcus aureus. Scanning electron microscopic observations revealed that test pathogen treated with Curcuma longa extract showed morphological deformity, with partial lack of the cytoplasmic membrane, which leads to cell disruption The ability of rhizome of Curcuma longa extracts to inhibit the growth of test pathogen is an indication of its broad spectrum antimicrobial potential which may be employed in the management of microbial infections."
Until now, most of the research into the effects of turmeric has been conducted on mice rather than humans, using doses far higher than you would find in an average diet.
But findings have been intriguing: for instance, one United States (U.S.) study involving mice found the active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, can help slow down the progression of breast cancer in mice.
Other studies have found it may help destroy the plaques that form in the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease.
According to a professor of pharmacognocy at the College of Medicine University of Lagos (CMUL), Idi-Araba, Olukemi A. Odukoya, "Turmeric helps detoxify the body, and protects the liver from the damaging effects of alcohol, toxic chemicals, and even some pharmaceutical drugs. Turmeric stimulates the production of bile, which is needed to digest fat. Turmeric also guards the stomach by killing salmonella bacteria and protozoa that can cause diarrhoea."
Previous medical researches indicated that a regular diet including spices such as garlic and turmeric, and apiaceous vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, celery and parsley reduces the carcinogenic effects of aflatoxin, and breast cancer risk in women exposed to hormone replacement therapy.
Indeed, spices have been shown to protect the liver against aflatoxin poisoning, and the breast from cancer. India researchers found that food additives such as turmeric, and active ingredient curcumin (diferuloyl methane), asafoetida (flavouring agent), butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and ellagic acid inhibited the mutagenesis induced by aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) (0.5g/plate) in Salmonella tester strains TA 98 and TA 100.
Also, University of Missouri, United States, researchers have found that curcumin, a popular Indian spice derived from the turmeric root, could reduce the cancer risk for women after exposure to hormone replacement therapy.
Also, other studies indicated that the Asian spice cultivated in Nigeria and found in many curries, has a long history of use in reducing inflammation, healing wounds and relieving pain, preventing diabetes and heart failure, and inducing weight loss.