Introduction to Turmeric and Alzheimer's
Curcuma Longa, or turmeric, is a member of the ginger family and native to South Asia. The rhizome, or root, of the plant is boiled, dried and ground to create turmeric powder or the root can be eaten fresh as with ginger itself. The deep yellow color of turmeric comes from its most potent active ingredient, curcumin, which in addition to provide the color that can be used as a dye is also increasingly associate with a huge range of medical properties including anti-tumor, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory, anti-parasite and importantly for Alzheimer's sufferers, there is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that curcumin can help to slow or even reverse some of the symptoms of this degenerative neurological disease.
Alzheimer's is a degenerative dementia resulting in inability to form memories, confusion and general withdrawal as the bodily functions are slowly lost. It has no known cure and eventually leads to death. It is most often diagnosed in people over 65 years of age although early-onset Alzheimer's can occur much earlier. With over 25m sufferers worldwide and the progressive nature of the disease requiring full time care for advanced cases, it is on track to become one of the most expensive conditions to deal with globally. The exact cause of Alzheimer's disease is not yet known and there are several hypotheses currently being investigated.
Turmerics Antioxidant Capabilities Protect The Brain
Epidemiological studies covering the older sections of Indian populations who have a diet rich in turmeric throughout their lives have discovered that the frequency of neurological disease and Alzheimer's in particular are much lower than the normal. Similarly, studies have found that curcumin, the biologically active component in turmeric, appears to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease in mice. Several of these studies have suggested the curcumin is able to activate a gene which causes the brain tissues to produce a powerful anti-oxidant known as bilirubin which shields the brain cells from damage caused by free radicals. It is this oxidative damage that has been strongly linked to the ageing of the body and thought to be responsible for many aspects of late life neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's.
Alzheimer's disease is the end result of the accumulation of protein fragments between the neurons in the brain. These protein fragments, called amyloid-B, aggregate into insoluble plaques and disrupt the normal functioning of the neurons resulting in the external symptoms of Alzheimer's. A team at UCLA have conducted studies into the interaction of curcumin with amyloid-B aggregations where they have shown that this potent chemical from turmeric was able to not only inhibit the aggregation of the amyloid-B fragments to form new plaques but to dissolve the existing plaques which may be able to reverse some of the effects. These studies will need to migrate from the test tube to clinical trials before the effect is confirmed in humans.
In summary, there is intense research into competing theories and alternative types of treatment for Alzheimer's disease. There is increasing evidence that your diet may have an influence on the speed and severity of symptoms with some long, multi-decade studies describing how people drinking 3-5 cups of coffee per day during middle age suffered two-thirds less dementia in old age. Similarly, the analysis of the Indian population and their use of turmeric is showing initial signs of being able to slow or perhaps even reverse the effects of the disease in a lab environment. The health benefits of turmeric have been shown to be highly diverse, and it is certainly easy to add to the diet using the spice in many types of meals as well as being available as a dietary supplement in capsule form.