Spice It Up Baby!

Spice It Up Baby!

Spices May Help Prevent Dementia

We're finding so much research on the health benefit of spices that we're going to feature them regularly. We'll start with turmeric.

Turmeric is a flowering plant in the same family as ginger. Native to Southeast Asia, it has been used as a flavoring since antiquity, and is also used as a dye. As a spice, it is a key ingredient in curry powder. As opposed to many other spices and herbs, turmeric is a special case in that there is an increasing body of research to support its effectiveness in supporting cognition. It contains curcumin, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Over the years, studies noted that Indian families who use turmeric in their curry have a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than families from other countries. The hypothesis has been that consumption of turmeric-containing curry is a likely reason.

Some of the research focused on curcumin’s positive role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease comes from the Semel Institute. The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the UCLA Longevity Center has been doing excellent work on healthy aging. In addition to the work they’ve conducted on exercise, they have also conducted research specifically to see if preventative benefits of curcumin could be identified. It’s been known for a while that obtaining adequate curcumin from food is difficult. Curcumin isn’t very bioavailable, that is, not much of it is retained in the body. Since some families in India consume turmeric-rich curry regularly, and possibly add turmeric to other recipes as well, they may thereby develop some resistance to Alzheimer’s disease. For Western diets, consuming that much turmeric is unlikely. Therefore, the researchers used a branded, concentrated form developed to be more bioavailable. That product is Theracurmin.

Researchers led by Gary W. Small, M.D. and Prabha Siddarth, PhD, found a group of “nondemented” adults to participate. (Their term, not mine. However, I really want to believe that I am in the nondemented group.) The participants were extensively screened for health and cognitive ability. As always in scientific studies, there were an experimental group and a control group: the former received Theracurmin, the latter a placebo. They were tracked for eighteen months. (I understand that this is just the first reporting period for the research, which is planned to continue. We should see additional results in the future that may be very informative.) The participants underwent a specialized PET scan (an FDDNP-PET, if you’re interested) prior to commencing the supplementation, then again after eighteen months. After the eighteen-month period, the study author Gary W. Small, MD, reported,

Daily oral Theracurmin may lead to improved memory and attention in non-demented adults. The FDDNP-PET findings suggest that symptom benefits are associated with decreases in amyloid and tau accumulation in brain regions modulating mood and memory.

Those subjects receiving Theracurmin performed better on the cognitive tests and showed less of the abnormal proteins beta-amyloid and tau. Those proteins are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

I found this sufficiently powerful research to commence supplementation myself. Note, however, that the study participants were receiving a rather large dosage: ninety milligrams twice a day. Most over-the-counter versions of curcumin or turmeric are thirty or sixty milligrams. If you decide to supplement with curcumin, it would be wise to check with your primary care physician. Be sure to discuss quantity.

Link to the research here.

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