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Using the latest genetic technology, researchers have begun to discover the exact molecular reasons why foods such as turmeric, a popular curry spice, and ordinary orange juice are good for the health of hearts and arteries.
Two French research teams are reporting studies describing the range of genes that are affected by curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, and hesperidin, an antioxidant that is a prominent component of orange juice. Their reports were delivered at the American Heart Association's Basic Cardiovascular Sciences Conference 2009, held in Lake Las Vegas.
"We used a microarray approach," said Dragan Milenkovic, a research scientist at the Centre de Clermont-Ferrand/Thiex in Saint Genes Champanelle, who described the turmeric study. "We have slides with samples of all the genes, and we compared the expression of each gene to see which of them had their activity modified by exposure to curcumin."
The molecular study was done with mouse genes, and was preceded by a trial in living mice. The researchers used curcumin, which is a polyphenol, a form of antioxidant. Like other antioxidants, curcumin is known to help prevent against arterial buildup of plaque, the fatty deposits that eventually can block blood vessels.
The molecular study was preceded by a trial in which mice given a daily curcumin supplement for 16 weeks were found to have a 26% lower level of fat deposits in the aorta, the main artery of the heart. The researchers then isolated genetic material from the mice and exposed it to curcumin. They found altered expression of 2,252 genes, whose activity included cellular signaling and adhesion, inflammation and fat metabolism.