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Spices, allies in the war against coronavirus

Coronavirus scare upon humanity

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new breed of virus which is highly contagious like the earlier SARS, bird flu, swine flu etc.  Our country India has left no stone unturned to check the spread of the virus, taking measures like Janta curfew, Lockdown etc. While the global research for novel drugs and vaccines against coronavirus continues at a rapid pace, it’s time we explore alternative anti-viral strategies that one can conveniently and easily adopt. 

Coronavirus and other related viruses

Today the term coronavirus is the most common word in media all over the world. Have you ever wondered what a coronavirus is?  What is it made up of? Actually, viruses are miniscule microscopic organisms that can only replicate (multiply) inside living cells of other organisms. In other words, they need a host to reproduce and increase their number. This host can be a human or any other animal. Coronaviruses are a related group which form a family of virus called Coronaviridae. Recent COVID-19 virus and the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) come under this family. They are similar to another group of viruses, the influenza group of viruses which come under the family Orthomyxoviridae. By influenza, we mean those viruses that commonly cause different types of flu like common flu (viral fever), bird flu, swine flu in humans. Viruses are so small, only about 80-120 nanometers (1 nanometer = 1 billionth of a meter) in diameter. Other groups of viruses like rhinovirus which causes common cold are even smaller, 20-30 nanometers in diameter.

All these viruses have an envelope (covering) surrounding the genetic material Ribonucleic acid (RNA). For comparison, human cells have Deoxy-ribonucleic acid (DNA) as the genetic material. In a nutshell, a virus particle looks like a small sphere whose outer covering is the envelope, containing RNA inside.

How viruses invade us?

Viruses need to attach themselves to human cell surface via special glycoproteins present in the viral envelope, before they can properly enter inside the human cell. Once inside, it makes multiple copies of its RNA (a process known as replication) using the host human cell’s resources, ultimately killing the human cell. Eventually, numerous daughter/new viruses emerge out via bursting of the host cell. Then, each one of these new viruses can attach to another human cell and this cycle continues on and on.  

Humanity looks to Mother Nature for help

Nature has bestowed upon us several herbal solutions to improve our health and immunity, spices being principally one of them. Spices are special aromatic plant parts like seeds, stems, flowers, bark etc. that find regular culinary usage worldwide. Known to us for their distinctive flavor and aroma, spices are also our important health caretakers.

Natural compounds known commonly as phytochemicals are an important source of novel anti-infectives. Spices are a reservoir of exotic phytochemicals that have potent anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Spices are rich source of anti-virals

The medicinal value of spices have been realized by human civilization since ancient times. Ayurvedic and Unani texts describe the use of different spices for treating various human ailments. Modern scientific research has now established that spices possess potent anti-microbial properties and also boosts human immunity against pathogens.

For instance, the phytochemical Curcumin (found in Turmeric powder), has shown potent anti-viral activity against numerous virus types including Influenza virus, Hepatitis C virus, Herpes virus (HSV) and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the causative agent of AIDS) [1].  Curcumin hinders influenza virus progression in two steps. Firstly, Curcumin has been shown to stop the attachment of Influenza virus to human cells [2]. Secondly, it also hinders the replication of viral RNA inside human cells [2, 3]. Against the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV), curcumin inactivates a crucial viral protein responsible for RNA replication, thus disabling the virus to multiply its RNA [4, 5].  Since, COVID-19 is also a coronavirus, we can fully expect that turmeric will also be effective against it. Curcumin is also an immunity stimulant and possess strong anti-cancer, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties [6, 7].

(A) Turmeric powder prepared from turmeric

(B) Black-pepper powder and pepper-corns

Black pepper is a gem for health and immunity boosting properties. The phytochemical Piperine (found in Black Pepper powder) has anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, as established by modern scientific research [8-10]. Black pepper powder contains essential oils which is known to regulate autoimmune disorders, as well as strengthen and fortify our immune system [10-12].  Besides, Piperine enhances absorption of essential nutrients like vitamin B12, beta-carotene and curcumin, calcium, selenium & tea phytochemicals, in the human gut [13-15]. Thus, Black pepper powder is advised to be taken along with Turmeric or Tea, to reap the full benefits of all these magical herbs.

Cumin is another spice, known for its distinctive flavor and is an essential part of Indian cuisine. Cumin has anti-microbial property. In a recent study, cumin essential oil extract was found to inhibit growth of Herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) [16]. The mechanism is the inhibition of attachment of the virus particle to human cell membrane. EHP [1-(2-Ethyl, 6-Heptyl) Phenol], a natural compound purified from cumin seeds extract was able to kill or inhibit three types of viruses namely: Hepatitis A virus (HAV), Coxsackie B4 Virus (Cox B4), and Herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) [17]. Cumin has also shown anti-fungal activity in many studies.

Other notable spices with anti-viral properties are garlic, ginger and fennel. Garlic has been proven to be effective against Influenza A and B, HIV, HSV-1, viral pneumonia, rhinovirus and even human papillomavirus (HPV), the causative agent of cervical cancer in women [18, 19]. Ginger has been demonstrated to have impressive anti-viral activity thanks to its high concentration of potent phytochemical compounds. Gingerols and Zingerone are ginger phytochemicals that prevents viral entry to human cells and inhibit viral replication [20, 21]. So far we know that ginger inhibits a wide variety of viruses including avian influenza, Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and feline calicivirus (FCV) [22-24]. Trans-anethole, one of the main component of fennel essential oil is effective against herpes viruses and parainfluenza type-3 (PI-3), which causes respiratory infections in cattle [25, 26]. Fennel powder also has anti-inflammatory property and boost the immune system [27].

(A) Garlic powder prepared from garlic cloves

(B) Ginger powder made from ginger

Epilogue

Finely powdered spices have better absorption and bioavailability for our human system than whole spices as proven by modern studies. This is because the phytochemical accessibility increases due to greater surface area. Hence, smaller quantities of powdered spices is sufficient for our purpose rather than taking large quantity of whole spices.

At a time when the world is working hard to design a novel drug for combating corona, it is high time we also look into alternative medicine which can be easily available at our disposal.  Any synthetic designed novel anti-corona drug will certainly be expensive as is the case with allopathic formulations, and at times can be inaccessible to common people. Coupled with that, synthetic drugs are always associated with numerous side-effects. Spices are cheaper and easily accessible to the local population. Moreover, Spices are herbals and have always been recognized as free from any unwanted side-effects.

So why not give spices a try to boost our immunity? After all, let us utilize all the weapons at our arsenal in the combat against corona. Jai Hind!

REFERENCES

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