Before discussing the antiviral properties of turmeric let us first discuss what exactly a virus is.
Viruses are obligatory parasites and are responsible for a large number of diseases from the common cold to the deadly HIV-AIDS.
Viruses are very small microorganisms containing either DNA or RNA (linear or circular, single stranded or double stranded) as genetic material.
Their genetic material is enclosed by a protein coat called capsid made up of several smaller units called capsomeres.
They may be helical, polyhedral, enveloped, non-enveloped or complex. An interesting thing about viruses is that they can be neither considered as fully living or non-living organisms.
Viruses inject their genetic material and reproduce inside the cells of host organisms where they cause infections; hence, they are living inside the host body.
On coming in contact with the host cell, viruses inject their genetic material inside it by chemically interacting with the specific receptors present on the cell surface.
The DNA of virus (or RNA changed to DNA) incorporates with the DNA of the host.
Using the host’s cellular machinery, it replicates its genome and reproduces to form a large number of viruses.
The cell eventually bursts and the viruses then infect new cells. ,
Fighting Viral Infections
Humoral Immunity– If the virus is present in serum or on moist surfaces like respiratory tract, the infected cells cause the B lymphocytes to produce antibodies like IgG, Ig, and IgA.
These antibodies neutralize the virus by the following two mechanisms-
- Block the interaction between the virus and host cells.
- Antibody dependent cytotoxic cells or compliment mediated lysis after recognition of viral antigens.
Cell Mediated Immunity– Cell mediated Immunity helps in fighting viral infections by the following ways-
- The leukocytes or the White blood cells like cytotoxic T lymphocytes, Natural Killer cells and Antiviral macrophages destroy the viruses and the infected cells.
- Viral infection stimulates monocytes, T cells, and Natural killer cells to produce cytokines that mediate antiviral immunity.
Anti- viral drugs
Several anti viral drugs are available in the market for combating viral infections like influenza, herpes, HIV AIDS etc.
They are highly specific and adopt various modes of action. For example-
- Prevent the entry in or interaction of the virus with the host cells.
- Inhibit the replication of the viral genome
- Suppress the DNA polymerase enzyme of the virus
- Inhibits the synthesis of viral proteins and DNA.
How Turmeric Can Help in Fighting Viral Infections
Turmeric (Curcuma longa, family: Zingiberaceae) is a great Indian spice referred to as “The Indian Saffron”.
Its golden- yellow color and pleasant aroma as well as flavor make it an important ingredient of almost every dish. Turmeric is beneficial not only for culinary but also for the health care industry.
It has been used as an effective therapeutic agent against a number of diseases since time immemorial.
All the major properties of turmeric are because of the polyphenolic component of Turmeric called Curcumin.
A number of research studies and scientific evidences suggest that turmeric has a potent anti- viral activity.
Let us discuss in detail some of the viral infections against which turmeric is helpful.
1. Turmeric and Human Immuno- deficiency virus (HIV)
Human Immuno- deficiency virus or HIV is a retrovirus (RNA genome) which is responsible for Acquired Immuno- deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
It is a deadly virus which adversely affects the T cells or CD4 cells of the immune system.
It uses their machinery to multiply and then destroys them.
The virus takes over the immune functions of the body and weakens the immune system, hence, known as human Immuno-deficiency Virus.
It is believed to have come into human beings through simian monkeys and produces symptoms like fever, enlarged lymph nodes, rashes or sore throat.
Studies suggest that curcumin can be highly effective against the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
It binds to the active site of HIV- 1 Integrase and Protease enzymes thereby preventing viral infection.
HIV proteases are enzymes which are important for the viral life cycle and responsible for the virulence of HIV.
A research study published in the journal Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry shows that Curcumin and Curcumin boron complexes inhibit the HIV-1 and HIV- 2 Proteases.
HIV- 1 Integrase is an enzyme which causes reverse transcription in HIV i.e. converts its RNA genome to DNA and facilitates the integration of the reverse transcribed DNA of the virus with the host cell chromosomes.
This step is essential for the replication and metabolic functioning of the virus in the host body.
It has been found that the anti-HIV property of Curcumin is also because it effectively suppresses the activity of HIV- 1 Integrase enzyme.
What it means- The above discussed studies suggest that Curcumin can be an effective anti- HIV agent.
It inhibits HIV- 1 Integrase and HIV- 1 and 2 protease enzymes and suppresses the transcription of viral genome thereby preventing viral replication and infection in the host organism.
2. Turmeric and Herpes Simplex Virus
- Herpes simplex virus 1- causes oral herpes characterized by cold sores in areas around mouth and face
- Herpes Simplex virus 2- causes genital herpes characterized by sores, pain and irritation in the genital and anal region.
HSV- 1 is caused by skin to skin contact, kissing or sharing of towels, lip balms, razors and silverware etc. It is usually contracted during infancy or childhood.
HSV- 2 is transmitted by sexual contact. Once the virus infects the host organism, it moves to the nerve cells of the host and never leaves its body.
Anti- viral drugs like Acyclovir, Famciclovir, valacyclovir etc are used for reducing the severity of the disease.
These drugs primarily target the DNA polymerase enzyme of Herpes simplex virus.
A 2008 research published in the journal ‘Virology’ explores the benefit of Curcumin in suppressing the gene expression and infection of Herpes virus.
It was found that Curcumin affects the recruitment of RNA polymerase II enzyme to immediate early (IE) gene promoters which is mediated by viral transactivator protein VP 16. This prevents herpes infection.
What it means- The above mentioned research study provides the evidence of anti- HSV activity of Curcumin.
Curcumin has the potential of acting as an effective curative against herpes infection as it inhibits the immediate early (IE) gene expression in herpes simplex virus.
3. Turmeric and Hepatitis Virus
It may be short term or a chronic infection. Complications include liver damage, liver failure and liver cancer.
Curcumin prevents hepatitis B infection by down- regulation of PGC-1 alpha protein that activates the transcription of the Hepatitis B virus.
This mechanism prevents the replication and gene expression of the virus.
Curcumin exhibits effective anti-hepatitis C Virus activity by suppressing its replication.
It inhibits the activation of Akt-SREBP-1 and thereby reduces the gene expression and infection of HCV.
Its anti- oxidant activity against the production of reactive oxygen species and its cooperation with PDTC (Pyrrolidine Dithiocarbamate) also inhibits the viral replication.
It also inhibits the binding and entry of HCV genome into human liver cells (Hepatocytes).
What it means- Curcumin is effective against the life threatening Hepatitis B and C viruses. It prevents the replication and gene expression of these viruses in the host organism’s body.
In fact, it also prevents the entry of hepatitis C viral genome into the liver cells of hosts by inhibiting its interaction and fusion with the cell surface.
4. Turmeric and Influenza Virus
Influenza, commonly known as flu, is a viral respiratory disorder. It is highly contagious and in severe cases may lead to the death of the patients.
The common symptoms of the disease are fever, cough, sore throat, body ache, headaches, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea, etc.
Curcumin, the primary polyphenol of turmeric is capable of fighting the influenza virus. A recent study published in the year 2010 in the journal Food
Chemistry suggests that only 30 micrograms of Curcumin can effectively reduce the production of influenza virus in cell culture by 90%.
Inhibition of viral infection was observed in H1N1 and H6N1 subtypes of the virus caused as a result of haemagglutination inhibition.
Another research found that Curcumin analogues (Pet and THC) are effective against influenza infection.
Curcumin also prevents the entry of Influenza viral genome into the host cell by interfering with the interacting of Influenza Haemaglutinin (HA) protein essential for viral infection with the host cell receptors.
What it means- We can thus say that Curcumin is a powerful anti- influenza agent.
It inhibits the infection by preventing haemagglutination and interaction of HA protein with the host cell.
5. Turmeric and Ebola virus infection
Ebola is a fatal viral disease. It can be spread by direct contact with the blood or body fluids from an Ebola patient or objects contaminated with them.
Infected fruit bats or primates and Sexual contact with the patient are also a couple of causes of transmission of the virus from an infected person to a healthy individual.
Common symptoms are fever, chills, diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding, headache, sore throat, fatigue and weakness, rashes and abdominal pain etc. which can ultimately lead to organ failure or even death.
A research published in the journal “In Vivo” explores the mechanism by which Curcumin, the principle polyphenolic compound in turmeric, can help in getting rid of Ebola.
At the terminal stage, there is an increased secretion of inflammatory cytokines by the immune system of the patient’s body. This is known as “cytokine storm”.
Curcumin inhibits the production of inflammatory cytokines like Interleukin-1, interleukin-6, and also Tumor- necrosis factor alpha.
This plays an important role in reducing the chances of death. Intravenous formulation of Curcumin is a potent treatment for Ebola patients.
What it means-This study gives us an idea about how turmeric can help in treatment of Ebola infection.
By not allowing the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines like IL- 6 and IL-1, and tumor necrosis factor- alpha, Curcumin prevents cytokine storm and death of the patient.
6. Turmeric and Human papilloma virus infection (HPV)
Human papilloma virus infection (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted viral infection that is contracted by most of the sexually active men and women.
Most of the times, the disease disappears without causing serious health conditions but sometimes it may lead to genital warts or cancer of cervix, vagina, penis, anus, etc.
Turmeric has proven to be effective against HPV- induced human cervical cancer.
Paclitaxel is a well known therapeutic against human cancer like cervical cancer.
A research published in the journal “Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine” shows that Curcumin can improve the efficacy of paclitaxel in treating cervical cancer.
Curcumin promotes the apoptosis and cytotoxicity of cervical cancer cells and helps in reducing the gene expression of HPV. It also increases the p53 and cleaved capcase 3 levels.
It also helps in protecting cervical cancer cells from proliferating due to oral contraceptive like Estradiol intake.
Another research also indicates that Curcumin can suppress the expression of drug resistant proteins MRP1 and pgp1.
It increases the levels of p53 and decreases the expression of HDACs and HPV onco-proteins.
Thus, it reduces the Cisplatin resistance in HPV cervical cancer cells increasing the efficiency of the chemotherapeutic drug at low doses.
What it says- Thus, we infer that Curcumin has protective properties against Human Papilloma viral infection. It prevents the proliferation of HPV cervical cancer cells.
It suppresses the viral oncoproteins E6/E7 by following the NF-b-P53- capcase 3 pathway.
It also increases the efficiency of chemotherapeutic drugs by suppressing the expression of drug resistant proteins.
7. Turmeric and Rift Valley Fever Virus (RVFV)
Rift valley fever is a viral disease caused by rift valley fever virus (RVFV) and spread by mosquitoes.
It is mainly a disease of domestic animals but may also infect human beings through fluids or organs of infected animals.
Infected people usually have no or mild symptoms like fever, weakness, back pain or dizziness.
In worst cases, severe symptoms may also occur like ocular disease, encephalitis, hemorrhagic fever etc.
There is so far no permanent and effective treatment for RVFV. In fact, 1-10% of the people suffering from RFV who had inflammation in the retina have died.
Thankfully, scientists have recently discovered that Curcumin can help against the disease.
It has been found that Curcumin helps in preventing the virus from multiplying in number.
It does not let the virus to manipulate the human cells due to which the stop responding to the infection.
When they tested the efficacy of Curcumin in rat models, they got favorable results.
What it says- This study indicates that Curcumin, the compound responsible for the color and most medicinal properties of turmeric can serve as a therapeutic against Rift Valley Fever for which no specific treatment has yet been established.
It inhibits the viral multiplication inside the host organism’s body and also prevents the virus from suppressing the defense activity of the cell.
It is safe to take upto 1 tsp turmeric on a daily basis without any side effects. One can higher dosages for a few weeks if needed.
It is best to make turmeric part of life by including in daily diet rather than popping turmeric or curcumin pills.
As turmeric is poorly absorbed in the body it is important to take it with fats or with black pepper. This way its bioavailability is improved. Read more about turmeric’s bioavailibility here>
Any good quality turmeric powder (need not to be expensive) is fine to use. If you are confused about the brands, here is a list of our recommended brands for you>
Turmeric has been used as a traditional Indian folk medicine. It is a very safe therapeutic and does not usually cause side effects if consumed in small quantities with food.
However, excessive or inappropriate dosage for prolonged duration might cause several adverse effects (though mild) on patient’s health.
Always take curumin supplements with great caution. It is best to avoid them altogether.
It is always advised to consult a doctor before taking turmeric doses.
- Care must be taken by people having gallstones or obstruction in bile passages.
- Pregnant and breast feeding women are advised not to take turmeric supplements or therapeutic doses of turmeric.
- Turmeric may cause hypoglycemia in diabetic patients who are already on medication.
- People going for surgery must cease turmeric consumption 2 weeks before surgery as Turmeric works a potent blood thinner.
Turmeric is ancient Ayurvedic medicine. Its anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-oxidant, anti-tumor, antibacterial, anti-fungal activities are responsible for its extensive use in the healthcare industry.
All these important medicinal properties of turmeric are because of its primary polyphenolic compound Curcumin obtained from its roots.
Despite the body’s immune responses against viral infections, they are still easily contracted and are difficult to treat.
Most often, the virus cannot be destroyed once a viral disease is contracted.
The symptoms of viral infections are difficult to detect in the early stages and this usually worsens the conditions.
Curcumin has been found effective against a number of life- threatening viral infections like HIV- AIDS, Herpes, Influenza, Hepatitis, Ebola, Human Papillomavirus and Rift Valley Fever Virus, etc.
It produces anti-viral activity by inhibiting the interaction of viral proteins with cellular receptors on host cells.
This prevents the entry of the viral genome into the host cells. It also prevents the replication, gene expression and subsequent infection of viruses by various mechanisms specific to the diseases.
With so many benefits, turmeric should definitively be part of your diet.