Curries, a legacy of Indian cooking, contain a substance that could be an essential weapon in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease — it’s known as curcumin and it’s grabbed the attention of researchers in a new study.
Curry (the dish, not the spice) is really a catchall term for a variety of dishes, typically containing a spicy sauce and vegetables, lentils or meat, and is often eaten along with rice. Although India is the most famous source of curry, many other Asian-Pacific countries also have their own variations of the dish.
Now, one of the primary ingredients in this type of cooking is the yellow spice turmeric, but it’s the stuff that gives turmeric its distinctive color — curcumin — that is of interest when it comes to Alzheimer’s.
Although the cause behind the neurodegenerative disease has not been verified, many scientists believe that plaque buildup of a protein called “beta-amyloid” in the brain could be the culprit. Previous studies involving testing curcumin on rodents have shown that the substance could battle existing Alzheimer’s cases by slowing down the production of amyloid plaque or even by destroying it. Researchers believe that this spice compound also has the potential to prevent the debilitating disease as well.
The latest study, which was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, was quite small — only involving nine subjects. Aged 65 to 84, six of the participants suffered from Alzheimer’s and three were free of any form of dementia. Actually, the people weren’t really involved in the study — just their blood was.
The researchers looked at “microphages” in the blood, which are immune system cells that get rid of certain substances that cause problems in the body and are considered “waste,” such as the beta-amyloid proteins. After their blood had been treated with curcumin for 24 hours, microphages from all study subjects were put in with amyloid plaque to see how they were able to deal with them.
In 50% of the Alzheimer’s patients’ blood samples, the immune cells were better able to eliminate the plaque than were microphages from the same patients that had not had the benefit of the curcumin exposure. The treatment was less effective in the blood from older patients or those who were at a more advanced stage of dementia. The microphages from the control group did not show any kind of negative or positive effects when given the curcumin treatment.
So, it appears that curcumin could improve the current state of an Alzheimer’s patient or even prevent the disease in the first place. Although a larger, more extensive study needs to be done in order to prove this finding, the extremely low rate of the degenerative brain disease in India seems to help back it up.
If you’re going to start adding curry dishes to your dietary regime, look for recipes that are low in fat and that definitely contain turmeric. You can also look for curcumin supplements as well.