Turmeric has been used as a spice and a medicine for thousands of years - you will probably know it as one of the main ingredients in an Indian curry, however it is also a major component in the traditional Chinese and Indian medicine systems. In fact turmeric is used extensively in Eastern cuisine and medicine, but is not all that common in Western cultures.
Turmeric is a super spice
The health and medical benefits attributed to turmeric include being a pain reliever, an anti-inflammatory, an antioxidant as well as lowering cholesterol and protecting the cardiovascular system. It has even proven to be as effective as some drugs against inflammation and pain.
In fact it has been the subject of many scientific studies in recent years and it seems that the circulatory, digestive, and neurological systems of the body, are all positively impacted by turmeric. The seemingly long list of diseases for which the spice is thought to provide healing continues to expand.
Linked to cognitive health
There is a significantly lower rate of Alzheimer's disease amongst Asian populations that have diets high in turmeric, and although it's too early to know the reason for this it has led some researchers to investigate a possible connection between brain health and turmeric.
Curcumin breaks down amyloid-beta plaques
Curcuminoids are the chemical components in turmeric that give it its characteristic yellow color. It is these compounds, especially curcumin, that are getting the attention of the scientific community.
Curcumin has been shown to break down amyloid-beta plaques (a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease) in lab-based studies.
Research out of Japan evaluated three separate case studies involving turmeric and came to some very interesting conclusions. In each case, turmeric was shown to both relieve dementia symptoms and improve overall cognitive function. The authors wrote:
"In a study involving three patients with Alzheimer's Disease, whose cognitive decline and behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia were severe, exhibiting irritability, agitation, anxiety, and apathy, supplementation with turmeric powder capsules for over one year was found to be associated with improvement in symptoms."
Earlier research published in the journal Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology supported these findings with the author's writing:
"Curcumin as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and lipophilic action improves the cognitive functions in patients with Alzheimer's Disease. Due to various effects of curcumin, such as decreased Beta-amyloid plaques, delayed degradation of neurons, metal-chelation, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and decreased microglia formation, the overall memory in patients with Alzheimer's Disease has improved."
Inflammation and Alzheimer’s Disease
There is a long running debate about the role of inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease. While we know the proteins known as plaques and tangles are the hallmarks of the disease, recent evidence supports earlier suspicions that an inflammatory response in the brain may be partly responsible for Alzheimer’s.
Clive Holmes of the University of Southampton, UK, presented the results of the study which tested 15 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s against a control group that received a placebo (saltwater). But Holmes’s team found that the participants taking an anti-inflammatory drug performed comparatively better on memory, behavior and well-being when compared to the control group.
Further to this, a group of researchers led by Dr. Richard Chou, MD, PhD, reviewed a medical database and identified more than forty-two thousand people with Rheumatoid arthritis. From this group they pulled 165 people with newly diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease and compared those to a control group. They found that people who were given anti-inflammatory medication were significantly less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
This could lead us on to suppose that anti-inflammatory substances in turmeric should act in ways similar to the pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory drugs. In fact, there is mounting clinical evidence that turmeric might protect the brain from the onset as well as the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Can turmeric cure Alzheimer’s?”
The answer is still, “We don’t know.” But there is growing evidence that it may eventually lead to a viable and effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease as well as other neurodegenerative disorders.
So start consuming more of this super spice as part of your normal diet, or consider taking a supplement such as turmeric/curcumin tablets - it may pave the way to improved brain health.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.