Turmeric And Alzheimer's Disease

Turmeric is the yellow South Asian spice that both flavors and gives its color to most curries. Made from the tuber-like roots of the plant curcuma longa, it has been used for many centuries in the practice of traditional Indian medicine known as Ayurveda ("the science of life"). Extracts of curcuma longa have routinely been used to treat dyspepsia, liver disease, flatulence, urinary tract disease and as a "blood purifier". It is also used directly on the skin to treat many ailments.

Over the past few years, the principal active ingredient in turmeric known as curcumin - and its various chemical derivatives, the curcuminoids - have been shown to act powerfully within the human body and brain with tremendous implications for the treatment of many diseases. For example, oxidative damage and inflammation are known to play a critical role in aging and age-related diseases. Several studies have shown that their actions can be reversed by food polyphenols such as curcumin, resveratrol and catechins -all of which are now classified as anti-aging and brain-protective agents. Curcumin has even been added into memory loss supplements. 

Of these, turmeric and the curcuminoids are currently being studied in research laboratories and clinical trials on the basis of their known antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antitumor properties. They have been reported to block many of the steps leading to development of Alzheimer's disease in the brains of animal models, along with improving behavioral impairment as well. These findings suggest that curcumin might be one of the most promising future treatments for Alzheimer's disease, although at the moment additional trials are necessary to determine its exact clinical usefulness.

Alzheimer's disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out simple tasks. Most people with Alzheimer's disease manifest symptoms after the age of 60 years. Health experts believe that as many as 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia among older people. Dementia can range in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person's functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for basic activities of daily living.

Curcumin and its derivatives have been shown to directly affect many of the steps in the development and progress of Alzheimer's disease and its symptoms, such as:

  • Oxidative stress damage - harmful products of oxidation processes play a critical role in the development of many brain-related diseases. Experimental evidence shows that curcumin protects the brain from many of these harmful byproducts, so that it may have therapeutic value in Alzheimer's disease solely as a result of this mechanism alone.
  • Production of beta-amyloid - formation of plaques and deposits in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease is directly related to disease severity. An abnormal form of the protein beta-amyloid is known to be the major component of plaques and deposits. Curcumin has been shown to lower beta-amyloid production and is therefore potentially capable of reducing disease risk by this mechanism.
  • Aggregation of beta-amyloid - under certain experimental conditions, individual beta-amyloid proteins can be made to 'aggregate', or join together to form fibrous structures similar to those that are found in plaques in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease. Curcumin not only prevented beta-amyloid aggregation in these experiments, but it also reversed it by dissolving any aggregates that had already formed. This suggests that curcuminoids can prevent plaque formation if administered at an early enough stage of Alzheimer's disease, and perhaps even prevent its progression to advanced stages.
  • Removal of waste beta-amyloid - defects in the immune system of Alzheimer's patients is known to slow down removal of abnormal beta-amyloid protein from brain cells, complicating the disease further. Bisdemethoxycurcumin, a curcumin derivative, has been shown to help the immune system remove waste amyloid beta more efficiently from the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease. Therapeutically speaking, this may help to slow disease advancement.
  • Memory loss - curcuminoids show memory-enhancing effects in animal models of Alzheimer's disease. In other words, they 'rescue' the expression of brain cell proteins that are important for memory storage. Animals treated in this way were seen to perform noticeably better on various memory tasks, suggesting that curcuminoids may also help to reverse memory deficits in human patients in future.

In spite of these many positive developments, important information regarding curcumin's safety and tolerability and how it is absorbed into the human body is still lacking, particularly in an elderly population. Scientists have developed special capsulated forms of curcumin which are water soluble to increase the efficiency of curcumin absorption into the body and the brain. Some of these are promising candidates and have been shown to deliver turmeric very effectively to the brain in experimental mouse models. More trials with these new and improved versions of therapeutic curcuminoids are clearly necessary to determine their usefulness in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

While the scientists are hard at work developing therapeutic interventions, you have nothing to lose by going out for an Indian curry more often, or even better simply cooking regularly with turmeric in your own kitchen. Finally, taking a memory loss supplement with curcumin in it may also help you maintain optimum brain health well into old age.

Read More on this Topic:
Coffee May Protect from Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's Disease: Beta-Amyloid Plaques
Can Exercise Prevent Alzheimer's Disease?
Vitamin D Deficiency and Parkinson's or Alzheimer's Disease

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20406252 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11606625 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15590663 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19090986 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20538041 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19605645

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