Whether you’re a celebrity or factory worker, much-loved or infamous, Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t care who you are. Like a mindless monster, it eats everything that makes people who they are. But even though you can’t reason with it, an increasing number of nutritional and herbal medicines are showing potential in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Now, researchers are finding a connection between turmeric and Alzheimer’s prevention, focusing on a increasingly popular herbal solution.
Turmeric, more specifically curcumin – its most “active” component – has attracted the attention of researchers after population studies showed that it may reduce the risk of dementia. One study published in 2000 found that Indian people in their 70s had a 4.4 times lower risk of dementia than Americans of the same age. In another study of 1,010 Asian people aged 60-93, those who ate curry, even including less than once a month, performed better on the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) than people who didn’t eat curry.
Turmeric and Alzheimer’s – How Does it Work?
One way that curcumin may fight AD is by helping immune cells clear away the brain-damaging amyloid-beta plaque seen in the condition. When immune cells from patients with AD were treated with curcumin and then introduced to amyloid-beta plaque, they were better at eating away the plaque than they were without curcumin.
A study on rats also found that curcumin could reduce the growth of certain cells unique to the brain. An excessive amount of these activated cells can worsen AD by producing inflammatory substances that promote plaque and tissue damage. Curcumin has been shown in many studies to fight inflammation by acting on several different pathways. It interferes with some steps that normally result in the production of multiple inflammatory chemicals, which have a range of damaging effects. It may also fight inflammation caused by amyloid-beta plaques, thus reducing further damage caused by the plaques seen in AD patients.
Another ability of curcumin that has been widely researched is its antioxidant effect. Studies have found that it could increase levels of our own antioxidant enzymes, which would otherwise fall with age, and decrease types of oxidative stress that would otherwise increase with age. A small study on curcumin treatment of three people with AD resulted in cognitive improvements for all of them – one had improved MMSE scores (from 12/30 to 17/30), and two were able to recognize their families after a year of treatment.
If you don’t like turmeric, the good news is that dementia rates are actually falling, which may be because of people taking better care of their cardiovascular health. Data analysis on 5,205 participants from the 1970s to the 2010s indicates that dementia rates fell by 44% over the almost 40 years. The average age at diagnosis also rose from 80 to 85. Another study, using data on about 140,000 people, found that dementia rates fell by about 10% from 2006-7 to 2009-10.
While more clinical trials (with more than three people) would help to confirm the efficacy of curcumin and to individually tailor natural treatments, it looks like turmeric could be another weapon in the fight against age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s.