Cooking spice can slow aging, study suggests

A researcher at UC Irvine has found that a compound found in curry and turmeric may be the spice of life.

Dr. Mahtab Jafari, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, has been studying the anti-aging properties of plants and herbs for five years. Her research recentlly uncovered that curcumin, a compound found in eastern spices such as curry and turmeric, can expand the life span of fruit flies by almost 20%, according to a campus news release.

"While curcumin works as an antioxidant, we don't know exactly why the flies lived longer," Jafari said, according to the release. "But, since the curcumin affected the age-associated genes, we can hypothesize that it affected the aging process."

The research was completed concurrently by Jafari at UCI and by Dr. Kyung-Jin Min in a research facility in South Korea on two different strains of fruit flies.

Both studies found that the life spans of the flies treated with curcumin were significantly increased and that the flies showed increased mobility.

Additionally, when the flies were exposed to cancer-causing agents, the curcumin showed to have tumor-preventive properties.

However, before people rush out to buy any type of supplements, including curcumin (usually marketed in the form of powdered turmeric capsules), Jafari advised people to use caution and be "skeptical of pharmaceutical companies' hype," she told the Daily Pilot.

There have been many studies on curcumin and other antioxidant compounds — and big companies are picking up on the public interest, she said.

"The public needs to scrutinize data," Jafari said. "If [a pharmaceutical company] makes such claims, then they need to back it up… Now here's the problem, they say 'here's the study, you can see the data for yourself.' The public needs to take a magnifier and check it out or the best thing is to talk to someone and ask questions."

Another reason why people should take supplements responsibly, so far research hasn't conclusively found the "correct" daily dose for curcumin, she said.

Although a typical diet of someone in India is 2 to 2.5 grams a day of turmeric, which has about 3% to 5% curcumin in its dried root form, Jafari couldn't say whether that would be a recommended dose for Americans.

"It's great that we're getting excited, but we actually don't know what the right dose is," Jafari said. "Too much of curcumin can actually impact your liver."

The absorbtion rate also varies depending on the purity of the curcumin, so it is hard to know how much you are actually getting into your system, she said.

Jarfari's research has looked at 75 different plants and herbs for potential anti-aging properties and she has focused her ongoing research around four: curcumin, Rhodiola rosea, Rosa damascena and green tea.

"For me, it was with a big dose of skepticism that I started working with plants," Jafari said. "And that's what really makes this so amazing."

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