IRVINE, Calif.–A UC Irvine researcher says a spice that is common in Indian curries and other Asian dishes may be so packed with anti-oxidants and other good chemicals that it might extend the lifespan of humans.

Curcumin is an ingredient in turmeric, a golden spice that is a staple in Asian cuisine, and used in many American kitchens for its peppery flavor as well. Mahtab Jafari, an associate pharmacuetic sciences professor at UC Irvine, says the spice 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-inflamatory, 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 tumeric affects people, because flies and humans “share many genes and aging pathways” and the spice affected age-associated genes in the flies. But cautioned that her work cannot be directly extrapolated to humans.

But the study demonstrates a potential use of curcumin treatments for mammals, she 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.