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Doctors say curry is the spice for life

Hair dye and smoking could damage the liver but the Indian spice curcumin may slow down the progress of liver disease, experts said.

One study examined the effect of curcumin -- which gives the curry spice turmeric its bright yellow colour -- on disease in mice while a second looked at the effects of smoking and hair dye use among humans.

Curcumin has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine -- practised on the Indian subcontinent -- to treat a wide range of gastrointestinal disorders.

Previous studies also suggested it has anti-inflammatory properties and works as an antioxidant.

The latest study, published in the journal Gut, looked at damage to the liver caused by progressive inflammatory illnesses, including primary sclerosing cholangitis and primary biliary cirrhosis.

These conditions can be triggered by genetic faults or autoimmune disease, causing the liver's bile ducts to become inflamed, scarred and blocked.

The damage to the tissues can be irreversible and cause progression to liver cirrhosis, which can be fatal.

Experts from Austria and the US studied tissue and blood samples taken from mice with chronic liver inflammation. The samples were looked at before and after adding curcumin to their diet for a period of four or eight weeks.

Being fed curcumin led to fewer blockages of the bile duct and less damage to cells in the liver and scarring, the research found.

The second study, by Manchester and Newcastle researchers, also published in Gut, related to research on more than 4,600 people, assessing their risk of primary biliary cirrhosis.

Smoking increased the risk by 63pc while hair dye increased the risk by 37pc, the experts found.

Previous bouts of urinary infection, psoriasis and shingles also increased the risk as did autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid and coeliac diseases.