Voa scientists look at plant products with an eye to new possibilities for health

BOB DOUGHTY: This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a program in VOA Special English. I’m Bob Doughty.

FAITH LAPIDUS: And I’m Faith Lapidus. Today, we will tell about herbs and spices, and some of their many uses.

BOB DOUGHTY: People have been using herbs and spices for thousands of years. Generally, herbs come from the green leaves of plants or vegetables. Spices come from other parts of plants and trees. For example, cinnamon comes from the hard outer cover of cinnamon plants. The spice ginger comes from the part of the ginger plant that grows underground.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Some herbs and spices are valued for their taste. They help to sharpen the taste of many foods. Others are chosen for their smell. Still others were used traditionally for health reasons.

Some herbs and spices may be gaining importance in modern medicine. For example, natural chemicals from black pepper and the Indian spice turmeric might help to prevent breast cancer. Researchers at the University of Michigan say a substance developed from the spices could reduce the possibility of breast tumors.

BOB DOUGHTY: Turmeric is a plant. It also is used to make the spicy food seasoning curry. In the study, researchers tested curcumin, a chemical compound taken from turmeric. They also used peperine, which comes from black peppers.

The researchers combined the two compounds, and placed the mixture on breast cancer cells in a laboratory. The mixture caused the number of stem cells to decrease. Normal breast tissue, however, was not affected.

Results of the study were reported in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. Madhuri Kakarala was lead writer of the report. Doctor Kakarala teaches at the University of Michigan’s Medical School. She also works as a research investigator for the Veterans Administration Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Doctor Kakarala says the cancer-fighting treatments known as chemotherapy do not

control tumors containing cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells are found inside tumors. They help the tumor continue growing without restriction. This means the disease can spread and return. The disappearance of cancer stem cells, then, is important for cancer control.

The doctor also says researchers could be able to limit the number of cells that can form tumors if they limit the number of normal stem cells. That would reduce the possibility of the disease appearing.

BOB DOUGHTY: Research involving turmeric is not new. Scientists have been studying its medical possibilities for many years. For example, researchers in Singapore completed one such study several years ago. The study was based on earlier evidence that turmeric has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. These qualities can help protect against damage to the body’s tissues and other injuries.

The researchers said turmeric has been shown to reduce evidence of damage in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. But, they said evidence was lacking about cases of Alzheimer’s in people who ate curry compared with people who did not use curry.

For this reason, the researchers designed a study that examined results from a mental-performance test of older Asian adults. The adults were sixty to ninety-three years old. None had severe memory losses. Those who sometimes ate curry, or ate it often or very often, did better on the tests than individuals who rarely or never ate curry.

FAITH LAPIDUS: The work of the Mayo Clinic and its medical experts is world-famous.

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Voa scientists look at plant products with an eye to new possibilities for health