Turmeric possible antiviral properties, research finds

Marta Branco/Pexels

Curcumin, a natural compound found in the spice turmeric, could help eliminate certain viruses, according to new research published in the journal Journal of General Virology.

The study showed that curcumin can prevent transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV), an alpha-group coronavirus that infects pigs, from infecting cells. At higher doses, the compound was also found to kill virus particles.

Infection with TGEV causes a disease called transmissible gastroenteritis in piglets, which is characterized by diarrhea, severe dehydration, and death. TGEV is highly infectious and is invariably fatal in piglets younger than two weeks, thus posing a major threat to the global swine industry. There are currently no approved treatments for alpha-coronaviruses and although there is a vaccine for TGEV, it is not effective in preventing the spread of the virus.

To determine the potential antiviral properties of curcumin, the research team treated experimental cells with various concentrations of the compound, before attempting to infect them with TGEV. They found that higher concentrations of curcumin reduced the number of virus particles in the cell culture.

According to the researchers, the study suggests that curcumin affects TGEV in a number of ways, by directly killing the virus before it is able to infect the cell, by integrating with the viral envelope to inactivate the virus, and by altering the metabolism of cells to prevent viral entry. 

Curcumin has been shown to inhibit the replication of some types of virus, including dengue virus, hepatitis B, and Zika virus. The compound has also been found to have several significant biological effects, including antitumor, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial activities. It is also considered to have low side effects, the researchers said.

The researchers said the next step is to continue research in vivo, using an animal model to assess whether the inhibiting properties of curcumin would be seen in a more complex system.

“There are great difficulties in the prevention and control of viral diseases, especially when there are no effective vaccines,” said Lilan Xie, PhD, lead author of the study and researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Bioengineering, in a statement. “Traditional Chinese medicine and its active ingredients, are ideal screening libraries for antiviral drugs because of their advantages, such as convenient acquisition and low side effects.”