MIND
January 29, 2018

Recipes for a Healthy Brain

A spice common to Indian, Thai and some African cuisines appears to help keep the cellular detritus associated with Alzheimer's in check.

Help for your memory problems may be as close as your spice cabinet. Turmeric, the spice that gives curry its bright yellow color, could improve your memory and your mood, a new study suggests.

Curcumin is the compound found in turmeric, a spice used in Indian, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian and Thai cooking. It is one of the primary ingredients of curry powder. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which could be the reason why the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is lower in India and why people from India perform better cognitively.

The participants who took curcumin improved their memory test scores by 28 percent over the course of the study with mild improvements in mood.

Forty adults between the ages of 50 and 90 with mild memory problems received either 90 milligrams of curcumin two times a day or a placebo for 18 months. Standardized cognitive tests were performed on all 40 people at the beginning of the study and at six-month intervals.

The curcumin level in their blood was checked when the study started and again after 18 months. In addition, 30 of the individuals had brain scans before and after the study to assess their brain levels of amyloid and tau, two abnormal brain proteins that are connected with Alzheimer’s disease.

The participants who took curcumin improved their memory test scores by 28 percent over the course of the study with mild improvements in mood. Their brain scans showed less amyloid and tau in the areas of the brain that control memory and emotions.

“Exactly how curcumin exerts its effects is not certain, but it may be due to its ability to reduce brain inflammation, which has been linked to both Alzheimer's disease and major depression,” explained lead author, Gary Small, director of geriatric psychiatry at UCLA, in a statement. The team plans to do a larger study to look into curcumin's anti-depressant effects.

Use turmeric freely in cooking to get the most benefits from curcumin, and don’t feel guilty about taking seconds.

The study was published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

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