Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric spice, is thought to fight inflammation and oxidative damage to the cells that can cause diabetes, according to a Reuters report.
When it is taken in supplement form, it appears to ward off diabetes amongst people with pre-diabetes who have high blood sugar and are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The Thai study involved 240 adults with pre-diabetes. Over a nine-month period, roughly half the participants took six daily supplements containing 250 milligrams of curcuminoids each. The other half were given a placebo.
After nine months, 19 of the 116 patients taking the placebo had type 2 diabetes, while none of the 119 patients taking the curcumin supplement had.
"Because of its benefits and safety, we propose that curcumin extract may be used for an intervention therapy for the prediabetes population," wrote study leader Somlak Chuengsamarn of Srinakharinwirot University in Nakomnayok, Thailand.
The supplement appeared to improve the function of beta cells, which are found in the pancreas and help insulin production.
Professor Greg Johnson, national policy advisor for Diabetes Australia, told ninemsn that curcumin has been considered for treatment of type 2 diabetes because it could help reduce inflammation.
"There is a lot of evidence around now that part of the problem of people getting type 2 diabetes is inflammation," he said.
"The theory is that inflammation as a process may be related to the accumulation of fatty tissue in the body in and around the organs. You then get substances that are produced that cause damage and that damage results in the development of type 2 diabetes."
Johnson said it makes sense that curcumin could be beneficial, but he warned more research needs to be done.
"There is some sort of rational for why this would work in terms of it being an anti-inflammatory and stopping that inflammation process, but this is just one study and we wouldn't be recommending this as a treatment at this point in time," he said.
The best thing people with pre-diabetes can do is implement a healthy diet with plenty of exercise.
"We have very strong evidence that up to 60 percent of people in this category can prevent the development of type 2 diabetes … with sustained lifestyle behaviour change," Johnson said.
"Diabetes is an incredibly complex, multi-factored problem and there is no magic bullet. People should get good advice around a healthy diet and a healthy weight."