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Can Curcumin Help Fight Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:

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This article is for informational purposes only. The current coronavirus outbreak is an ongoing event and certain details may change as new information comes to light. No effective or FDA-approved products are currently available for the treatment of the new coronavirus (also known as SARS-CoV-2 or 2019-nCoV), although research is still ongoing.

Turmeric (Curcuma Longa), most commonly known as the spice found in curry, is not only known for its flavor, but for its purported health benefits as well. Its active compound, curcumin, is a popular and well-known anti-inflammatory supplement [1].

Allergies

Some clinical trials suggest that two months of curcumin supplementation at 500 mg/day can reduce hay fever symptoms like sneezing, itching, runny nose, and congestion. The authors proposed that curcumin helps balance the immune response [2].

Lung Function

In a study on almost 2,500 people, eating a diet rich in curcumin was associated with an improved lung function, especially among current and past smokers [3].

In asthmatic mice, curcumin reduced symptoms such as airway inflammation and mucus overproduction, the levels of inflammatory markers, and airway remodeling [4, 5, 6, 7, 8].

Lung Damage

Because curcumin blocks cytokine release, it has been suggested to prevent life-threatening complications of severe viral infections such as ARDS and cytokine storm [9].

In mice with acute lung injury caused by severe bacterial infections, curcumin (injected, as a nose spray, and directly delivered into the lungs) prevented its progression to ARDS by reducing lung inflammation, swelling, and damage [10, 11, 12, 13, 14].

A recent study in mice suggested that curcumin protects from ARDS by promoting the development of anti-inflammatory Tregs [15].

Curcumin also reduced lung damage and inflammation caused by air pollution, different chemicals (benzo-alpha-pyrene, bleomycin, paraquat, hydrochloric acid, and polyethylene glycol), diabetes, and lung transplantation in animal studies [16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23].

A pharmaceutical company (SignPath Pharma) is currently developing a curcumin-based treatment for ARDS associated with COVID-19 [24].

In rats with COPD caused by cigarette smoke, curcumin reduced damage to the airway lining and inflammatory markers [25, 26].

Curcumin may help protect the lungs from damage by reducing inflammation and promoting anti-inflammatory Treg cells

Antiviral Potential

In mice infected with the flu, curcumin increased survival and reduced lung damage, inflammation, macrophage activation, and viral load [27, 28].

The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity of curcumin protected mice from cytomegalovirus infection as effectively as the antiviral drug ganciclovir [29].

Curcumin delivered into the vagina reduced inflammation and tissue damage in female rats with genital herpes. However, it failed to prevent the infection in healthy ratas [30].

In mice infected with the coxsackievirus B3, curcumin increased survival and reduced weight loss, inflammation, and heart tissue damage [31].

In turkeys challenged with avian flu (H9N2), supplementation of the feed with curcumin and thymoquinone reduced virus shedding and enhanced immune responses [32]

In test tubes, curcumin inhibited the following viruses:

  • SARS-CoV-1 [33]
  • Influenza A [27, 34]
  • Respiratory syncytial virus [35, 36]
  • Hepatitis B [37, 38]
  • Hepatitis C [39, 40, 41]
  • Oral herpes (herpes simplex 1) [42, 43]
  • Genital herpes (herpes simplex 2) [44]
  • HIV [45, 46, 47, 44]
  • Cytomegalovirus [48]
  • Enterovirus 71 [49, 50]
  • Zika [51]
  • Chikungunya [51, 52]
  • Dengue [53, 54]
  • Japanese encephalitis virus [55]
  • Rift valley virus [56]
  • Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus [57]
  • Coxsackievirus B3 [58]
  • Bovine herpesvirus type 1 [59]

A molecular simulation study identified curcumin and some of its derivatives as potential inhibitors of the ebola virus [60].

In a similar study, both curcumin and its derivative demethoxycurcumin were identified as potential inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2 capable of targeting its main protease [61].

This mechanism can add to the ability of curcumin to inhibit enveloped viruses by breaking down their fatty membrane [62].

Curcumin has shown antiviral activity on direct contact, and it appeared to protect experimental animals from viral infection.

About the Author

Carlos Tello

Carlos Tello

PhD (Molecular Biology)
Carlos received his PhD and MS from the Universidad de Sevilla.
Carlos spent 9 years in the laboratory investigating mineral transport in plants. He then started working as a freelancer, mainly in science writing, editing, and consulting. Carlos is passionate about learning the mechanisms behind biological processes and communicating science to both academic and non-academic audiences. He strongly believes that scientific literacy is crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid falling for scams.

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