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Popular Spice May Prove Useful Beyond The Kitchen

IRVINE (CBS) — A UC Irvine researcher says a spice that is common in Indian curries and other Asian dishes may be so packed with antioxidants and other good chemicals that it might extend the lifespan of humans.

Mahtab Jafari, an associate pharmaceutical sciences professor at UC Irvine, says the curcumin – which is a main ingredient in turmeric - keeps fruit flies alive 20 percent longer than normal, improves their mobility, and prevents tumors in them.

"Preliminary results from laboratory studies suggest the spice has anti-inflammatory, anticancer and antioxidant properties," Jafari told a UC Irvine communications writer. "The National Institutes of Health is also funding basic research on the potential role of curcumin in preventing acute respiratory distress syndrome, liver cancer and postmenopausal osteoporosis."

Jafari said her work with fruit flies may be directly relevant to how turmeric affects people because flies and humans "share many genes and aging pathways" and the spice affected age-associated genes in the flies.

Jafari cautioned that her work cannot be directly extrapolated to humans. However, the study demonstrates a potential use of curcumin treatments for mammals, Jafari wrote in the academic journal "Rejuvenation Research."

The spice has been used as folk medicine for centuries and is eaten in Asia to treat upset stomachs, arthritis pain, cuts and bruises.

Jafari worked with co-researcher Kyung-Jin Min in Korea, UC Irvine announced.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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