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Benefits of Tumeric and Curcumin for the Brain

Posted by Dr. Matt Hand on Oct 28, 2020 1:18:45 PM

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Most people are familiar with the spice turmeric. It’s a mainstay in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian cuisines, such as Thai Curry. However, many might not realize how Turmeric may support cognition and healthy, age-related cognitive decline.*

Asian countries, India in particular, have lower rates of senility than industrialized countries such as the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia.[1]

Many experts believe it’s because curcumin is a regular part of the typical Indian diet. They attribute lower rates of age-related cognitive decline to the free-radical fighting and inflammation-regulating properties of the curcuminoids (natural phenol compounds) present in turmeric.*

Western medicine has traditionally been slow on the uptake when it comes to herbs and botanicals for therapeutic use. But over the last 20 years, we have started to see questions posed around turmeric and brain health in medical journals.

Curcumin is proven to support a myriad of pathways in the human body, but why does it impact brain health?*

Curcuminoids in Turmeric Crosses the Blood-Brain Barrier

The blood-brain barrier is a layer of semi-permeable endothelial cells that protect the brain from toxins. And curcumin is an interesting case because one might assume that because the research shows that curcuminoids pass through the blood-brain barrier, so the gut must easily absorb curcumin. However, this is not the case. Curcumin does not pass the gut barrier very well on its own, which is why curcumin is much more effective when combined with black pepper.* It’s able to piggyback on peperine, the active ingredient in black pepper, to cross through the digestive tract into the bloodstream.

Curcumin has lipophilic characteristics. Because it is lipid-like, once it makes it to the bloodstream, the highly-selective blood-brain barrier allows the curcuminoids to pass through so that the compounds can interact directly with the brain tissues. If curcuminoids could not pass through this protective membrane, they wouldn’t get to the brain areas needed to be effective.* Because it crosses the blood-brain barrier, Turmeric can directly impart its healthy inflammatory and free-radical fighting properties to the brain.*

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Turmeric and Amyloid-Plaques

Amyloid-plaques are proteins that form between nerve cells. These misfolded proteins tend to gather in areas that impact memory and cognitive function.[2] The exact mechanisms as to why the curcuminoids in turmeric impact amyloid-plaques are still unclear. However, curcuminoids do seem to impact amyloid-plaque buildup positively.* Whether through changes in oxygenation, decreased free-radical formation, superoxide dismutase (enzymes that help breakdown potentially harmful oxygen molecules), or the stimulation of macrophage response, it does seem to help maintain healthy levels of beta-plaques.*[3]

Does turmeric Support Memory?*

Yes. Several studies point to curcumin supporting memory and even mood.* In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 40 adults aged between 50-90 with mild memory complaints took either a placebo or 90 milligrams of curcumin twice daily for 18 months.[4] Thirty of these volunteers took positron emission tomography scans (PET) to ascertain tau and amyloid plaques at the beginning and end of the study.

The findings showed that memories of the group taking curcumin had improved by 28 percent. The curcumin group also showed fewer instances of low mood.*

“These results suggest that taking this relatively safe form of curcumin could provide meaningful cognitive benefits over the years.*” —Dr. Gary Small, UCLA’s Parlow–Solomon Professor on Aging.

What Are the Adverse Effects of Turmeric?

Curcumin (Turmeric) is exceptionally well-tolerated. A small percentage of people may experience occasional mild gastrointestinal discomfort, such as slight nausea. However, those cases are few and far between.

RELATED CONTENT: How to Identify High-Quality Curcumin

How Much Turmeric Should I Take for Brain Health and Memory Support?*

Because the side-effect profile is so low, I tell my patients that more is better with Turmeric! One gram per day is enough to make sure you’re going to get the effects you are after. That said, if you like the flavor and enjoy it in your food, go ahead and put plenty in your curry sauce or other dishes.

In conclusion, all though we don’t have the exact scientific data as to why Turmeric impacts brain health, there are multifactorial properties in Turmeric that supports healthy levels of oxidation, free-radicals, inflammation, and may support macrophage responses.* It may also help to promote neuronal growth through the stimulation of phase II enzymes.* When we add all of these things up, we can see that Turmeric nutritional supplements positively impact various functions and pathways related to brain health and almost every cognitive condition that we’re aware of.*

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[1] "Incidence of Alzheimer's disease in India: A 10 ... - NCBI." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3553547/. Accessed 15 Oct. 2020.

[2] "What are Amyloid Plaques? - News Medical." https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-Amyloid-Plaques.aspx. Accessed 15 Oct. 2020.

[3] "Curcumin: A multi-target disease-modifying agent for ... - NCBI." 20 May. 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4873750/. Accessed 15 Oct. 2020.

[4] "Memory and Brain Amyloid and Tau Effects of a Bioavailable ...." https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1064748117305110. Accessed 15 Oct. 2020.

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