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Is turmeric good for the brain?

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Turmeric is a staple in many Indian and South Asian households, including mine. I have been exposed to turmeric for as long as I remember, wether it is in a curry or used as a medicine. Both my mother and grandmother would tell me about the many benefits of turmeric. Curcumin is one of the main component that makes up turmeric. It contains many pain relieving, anti-inflammatory and detoxifying characteristics. Interestingly turmeric has been shown to improve memory in those with Alzheimer’s disease.

The brain is made up of many nerve cells which form connections with each other in order to communicate. These nerve cells group together and form distinct brain structures. Each structure is responsible for different functions such as memory, thinking and behaviour. These nerve cells are affected in Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is a late onset disease which causes a loss of cells in the brain structures which are responsible for memory as well as cognitive skills. Although the exact reason as to why these nerve cells die are not known, it is suspected to be due to a protein called beta-amyloid which forms plaques as well as tangles of a protein called tau. These build up between these cells and prevent communication between the cells. This causes the cells to die in the specific structures, therefore the individual looses function resulting in loss of memory or cognitive ability. Although currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, only treatments which prevent the progression of the symptoms and improve the quality of life.

Turmeric has been used for its medicinal benefits for many years in Ayurvedic, Siddha and Unani medicines. However it has also been shown to be effective in both animals and humans in many other diseases. Turmeric has been linked to increased cognitive function in many studies, in which those who consume more curry, which contains turmeric, perform better in cognitive function tests. As mentioned previously, one of the prominent feature of Alzheimer’s are the beta-amyloid plaques. Turmeric possesses the ability to enter the brain and bind the the beta-amyloid, therefore blocking the formation of the plaques. Interestingly turmeric can also increases phagocytosis of beta-amyloid, hence successfully decreasing the amount of plaque in the brain of an individual with Alzheimer’s. Turmeric also has an anti-inflammatory property, this may have a beneficial effect in those with Alzheimer’s as turmeric can reduces the inflammation of nerve cells that occur in patients. Turmeric achieves this by reducing the amount of inflammatory chemicals that are found in the brain. Turmeric’s anti-oxidant properties also aid to reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s created by oxidation.

Curcumin, the main active ingredient in turmeric shows very promising results in decreasing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and therefore providing the individual with a better quality of life. However it should be noted that these results do not suggest that consuming turmeric will definitely improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Although these findings suggests turmeric can be beneficial, a lot more research will be needed in order to make definitive conclusions.

References/further reading

Hishikawa, Nozomi, et al. “Effects of Turmeric on Alzheimer’s Disease with Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia.” Ayu, vol. 33, no. 4, 2012, pp. 499–504, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665200/#sec1-3title, 10.4103/0974-8520.110524. Accessed 18 Feb. 2021.

Mishra, Shrikant, and Kalpana Palanivelu. “The Effect of Curcumin (Turmeric) OnAlzheimer′S Disease: An Overview.” Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, vol. 11, no. 1, 2008, p. 13, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781139/, 10.4103/0972-2327.40220. Accessed 14 Nov. 2019.

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