Turmeric is a relative of ginger that has long been used in Asian cuisines and has more recently gained popularity as a dietary supplement. Now, it appears that the plant could be the source of a potent weapon in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
The key to this claim is a substance known as curcumin. The bright yellow chemical can be extracted from turmeric, and it has become a source of interest in research communities for its potential applications as a medical aid. Recent findings suggest that curcumin may be an effective eliminator of the amyloid beta plaques that are found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
The Good News
Over the past several years, researchers have been able to consistently verify that curcumin has qualities that may aid in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to the discovery that curcumin reduces amyloid plaque formation, evidence has shown that the chemical is linked to better cognitive outcomes and the preservation of brain cell health.
The substance appears to have multiple properties that could contribute to its effectiveness in combating the condition. These characteristics include:
Curcumin appears to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Inflammation of the brain (aka neuroinflammation) is strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. It is not clear whether the inflammation is a cause of Alzheimer’s or simply a result (or both). However, there is evidence that symptoms of the disease can be reduced in the earlier stages by decreasing the immune system activity that supports neuroinflammation.
Curcumin acts as an antioxidant, which means that it can prevent potentially dangerous substances called free radicals from doing damage within the body. Free radicals are a wide-ranging group of highly reactive chemicals. Some radicals are produced within the body as a side-effect of normal biological processes, while many others are found in the environment.
Being highly reactive, radicals can easily initiate chemical reactions within the body, resulting in damage to the cells. Alzheimer’s disease may be caused, at least in part, by the destructive impact of free radicals in the brain. Antioxidants, like curcumin, act to neutralize and trap the most dangerous type of free radical in the body (oxidizing agents) and may be useful in preventing and/or treating Alzheimer’s.
The presence of abnormal protein deposits are a hallmark of brains affected by Alzheimer’s disease. These plaques and tangles, as they are known, have been targeted by decades of research without success. However, curcumin has recently shown promise for its ability to prevent and even disassemble deposits made from amyloid beta, which is one of the major problem-causing proteins in Alzheimer’s disease.
The “Could Be Better” News
While curcumin certainly has properties that make it an exciting consideration for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, there are several roadblocks that will likely prevent the chemical from being useful in its natural form.
- Turmeric and curcumin are quickly broken down in the body, so we would need to consume unreasonable amounts for it to be available within the blood supply.
- While the evidence is strong that curcumin has anti-Alzheimer’s properties, there has been little success in studies that actually test the chemical on human patients.
- Curcumin may still be effective if it is delivered to the brain in sufficient quantities, but direct injections are extremely risky and much research will be needed to address safety considerations first.
Eating turmeric or curcumin as part of a normal diet is unlikely to have a significant impact on the development of Alzheimer’s disease. However, it does offer a high amount of potential for researchers to develop effective preventions and/or treatments of the disease as they come to better understand its unique qualities. A breakthrough could come as a new delivery method, a new chemical derived from curcumin, or something entirely different.
For now, if you suspect Alzheimer’s disease in yourself or a loved one, it is probably best to put down the turmeric and pick up the phone to have a professional assessment arranged or to use a reliable self-assessment tool like the BrainTest® app.