The study data - published in the American Journal of Physiology, Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology - found that curcumin may provide protection against potentially lethal lung damage including bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BDP) and hyperoxia for up to 21 days after birth.
Led by Dr Virender Rehan from the LA BioMed institute at UCLA, the research team noted that premature infants often require the assistance of ventilators and forced oxygen therapy because they are often born with inadequate lung functions.
However, such therapies can cause the infants to suffer lasting lung damage and even death, the team said.
"We have previously shown curcumin's acute protection against neonatal hyperoxia-induced lung injury," Rehan and colleagues said - adding that until the new study it had been unknown whether the tumeric compound could also have a longer lasting effect.
"This is the first study to find long-term benefits of using curcumin to protect lung function in premature infants," said Rehan.
"Curcumin is known to have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, making it a promising therapy for premature infants who require oxygen therapy after birth."
Curcumin, the natural pigment that gives the spice turmeric its yellow colour, has increasingly come under the scientific spotlight in recent years, with a raft of studies investigating its potential health benefits. As a result, curcumin has been linked to a range of health benefits, including potential protection against prostate cancer, Alzheimer’s, protection against heart failure, diabetes, and arthritis.
However curcumin was among a host of herbs claiming joint health benefits to be delivered negative article 13.1 opinions by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in February 2010.