Curcumin, present in the popular Indian spice turmeric, holds promise in fighting against the devastating viruses, according to researchers.
According to Aarthi Narayanan, lead investigator of the study from Mason's National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases, curcumin stopped the potentially deadly Rift Valley Fever virus from multiplying in infected cells.
Mosquito-borne Rift Valley Fever virus (RVF) is an acute, fever-causing virus that affects domestic animals such as cattle, sheep and goats, as well as humans.
"Growing up in India, I was given turmeric all the time," Narayanan said.
"Every time my son has a throat infection, I give (turmeric) to him," she said.
She emphasised that there is more work to do before curcumin-based pharmaceuticals become commonplace.
She plans to test 10 different versions of curcumin to determine which one works the best. She also intends to apply the research to other viruses, including HIV.
Narayanan has long wanted to explore the infection-fighting properties of turmeric, in particular its key component, curcumin.
"It is often not taken seriously because it's a spice," she said.
However, science is transforming the spice from folk medicine to one that could help a patient's body fight off a virus because it can prevent the virus from taking over healthy cells.
These "broad-spectrum inhibitors" work by defeating a wide array of viruses.
"Curcumin is, by its very nature, broad spectrum," she said.
"However, in the published article, we provide evidence that curcumin may interfere with how the virus manipulates the human cell to stop the cell from responding to the infection," she added.
The study has been published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.