For centuries, practioners of Ayurvedic medicine have counselled patients to use turmeric, a bright yellow spice popular on the subcontinent, to treat liver and digestion disorders.
In a study published on Wednesday, a team of scientists in Europe and the United States give the nod to this piece of advice.
In tests on mice genetically engineered to have chronic liver inflammation, curcumin - a naturally occurring yellow pigment that is turmeric's main ingredient - appeared to delay damage that eventually leads to liver cirrhosis.
A group of engineered mice were given curcumin in their diet for four and eight weeks and were compared to engineered counterparts who had an otherwise normal diet.
'Significantly reduced' scarring
The curcumin mice had "significantly reduced" scarring to their livers, damage to liver cells and less bile duct blockage compared with non-curcumin counterparts.
Lab-dish tests were also carried out on cholangiocytes - cells found in the lining of bile ducts - taken from engineered mice.
Curcumin appears to work by interfering with chemical signalling pathways in inflammation, a finding that throws open an alluring avenue for a new liver drug, the investigators believe.
"Targeting these pathways may be a promising therapeutic approach," say the authors, led by Michael Trauner, a professor of internal medicine at Medical University in Graz, Austria.
The paper appears in Gut, a specialist journal of the British Medical Association (BMA).
Curcumin comes from a perennial herb called Curcuma longa. - (EurekAlert, March 2010)