Turmeric, the familiar yellow spice common in Indian cooking, may also help treat oral cancers caused by a virus, says a study co-authored by an Indian-origin researcher.

One of the herb’s key active ingredients – an antioxidant called curcumin – appears to have a quelling effect on the activity of human papillomavirus (HPV), the study pointed out.

"Turmeric has established antiviral and anti-cancer properties," said corresponding author Alok Mishra of the Emory University, Atlanta, US.

"And according to our new findings, we could say that it is good for oral health too," Mishra noted.

HPV is a virus that promotes the development of cervical and oral cancer. There is no cure, but the new findings suggest that curcumin may offer a means of future control.

Mishra’s research group first noted the effect of curcumin on HPV and cervical cancer cells in 2005. The antioxidant slowed the expression of HPV, suggesting that curcumin could control the extent of HPV infection.

"Since HPV-related oral cancer cases are on the rise, we tested the same hypothesis on oral cancer," Mishra explained.

"They turned out to be some very interesting findings."

The new research indicates that curcumin turns down the expression of HPV in infected oral cancer cells by downregulating the levels of cellular transcription factors AP-1 and NF-kB.

The research was published in the journal ecancermedicalscience.