Nutmeg's hidden power: Helping the liver

May 09, 2018

Smelling nutmeg evokes images of fall, pumpkin pie and hot apple cider. But the spice has been used for years in traditional Chinese medicine to treat gastrointestinal illnesses. Now one group reports in ACS' Journal of Proteome Research that they have figured out how nutmeg helps other organs, specifically the liver.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the world consumes 9,000 tons of nutmeg annually. Nutmeg is the seed of the Myristica fragrans tree, which is commonly found in Indonesia, and has been used to treat asthma, rheumatic pain, toothaches and infections. In the laboratory, researchers have shown that nutmeg can fight hyperlipidaemia, hyperglycemia, heart tissue damage and hepatotoxicity. Inspired by these studies, Xiu-Wei Yang, Frank Gonzalez, Fei Li and colleagues wanted to see how nutmeg prevents damage to the liver.

The researchers used a mouse animal model of liver toxicity to test the mechanism behind nutmeg's protective effects. Metabolomics analyses showed that nutmeg likely protected against liver damage by restoring the mice to more healthy levels of various lipids and acylcarnitines. Gene expression studies showed that peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARα) was modulated by nutmeg, and the spice didn't protect mice from liver injury if the PPARα gene was deleted. In addition, the team found that a specific compound in nutmeg, myrislignan, had a strong protective effect against liver damage.
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The authors acknowledge funding from the Nan-jing University, Yunnan Province, the National Key Research and Development Program of China, the U.S.-China Program for Biomedical Collaborative Research, the State Key Laboratory of Phytochemistry and Plant Resources in West China and the Thousand Young Talents Programs of China.

The abstract that accompanies this study is available here.

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