Biomedical Updates

Turmeric Compound Increases Lifespan

Of all the unsung heroes of the longevity revolution, there is the diminutive Caenorhabditis elegans, a free-living, transparent nematode (aka roundworm), about 1 mm in length, the diameter of a pinhead. The extraordinary work of Cynthia Kenyon comes sharply to mind. In 1993, Dr. Kenyon discovered that a single-gene mutation could double the lifespan of C. elegans and that this could be reversed by a second mutation in a related gene.1 This finding sparked an intensive study of the molecular biology of aging.

Also in Kenyon’s early work, adding a notch to her scientific belt, was the discovery that Hox genes, known to pattern the body segments of the fruit fly Drosophila, also pattern the body of C. elegans. As the worm turns (pun intended), Hox genes were not simply involved in segmentation. Kenyon’s findings demonstrate that they were part of a much more ancient and fundamental metazoan patterning system, which first came into play during the Cambrian Explosion 544 million years ago. (Organ music, please.)

Curcumin is the active ingredient in the herbal medicine and dietary spice, turmeric (Curcuma longa). It has a wide range of biological activities, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, chemopreventive, and chemotherapeutic activities. In new research, conducted at National Taiwan University, researchers examined the effects of curcumin on the lifespan and aging in C. elegans. What they found is that the roundworm responded to curcumin with an increased lifespan, reduced intracellular reactive oxygen species, and reduced lipofuscins* during aging. The researchers analyzed factors that might influence lifespan extension by curcumin, and found that lifespan extension by curcumin in C. elegans is attributed to its antioxidative properties, but not its antimicrobial properties.

* Lipofuscins are deposits of finely granular yellow-brown pigment granules, composed of lipid-containing residues of lysosomal digestion. One of the aging or “wear and tear” pigments, lipofuscins are found in the heart muscle, adrenals, liver, kidney, nerve cells, and ganglion cells.

Moreover, they showed that lifespan extension had effects on body size and the pharyngeal (throat) pumping rate, but not on reproduction. Finally, lifespan tests with selected stress- and lifespan-relevant mutant strains revealed that the lifespan-extending characteristics were absent from roundworm mutants, whereas curcumin treatment prolonged the lifespan of other mutants. This is a good day for worms, other mutants, and possibly for humans too.


  1. Kenyon C, Chang J, Gensch E, Rudner A, Tabtiang R. A C. elegans mutant that lives twice as long as wild type. Nature 1993 Dec 2;366(6454):461-4.
  2. Liao VH, Yu CW, Chu YJ, Li WH, Hsieh YC, Wang TT. Curcumin-mediated lifespan extension in Caenorhabditis elegans. Mech Ageing Dev 2011 Aug 9. [Epub ahead of print]

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