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Yellow curry, used in India for upset stomachs, rashes, and even liver disease, might also help treat Alzheimer’s disease. This ScienCentral News video has more.
The Spice is Right
In the sizzle of Indian cuisine, turmeric is one curry powder that may be more potent then it’s bitter ginger taste. UCLA scientists think the yellow pigment in turmeric, called curcumin, may be a promising treatment for Alzheimer's disease.
Cole's research team put six mice engineered to develop Alzheimer’s plaques on a regular mouse chow diet. He put another nine on a diet rich in curcumin. The mice that ate curcumin had 85% few Alzheimer’s plaques then the control group.
Cole says that because curcumin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cholesterol lowering properties, it may be able to make a “multipronged attack” on Alzheimer's. Now UCLA researchers led by neurologist John Ringman are beginning a clinical trial to see how well people can tolerate high doses of the curcumin.
Curcumin has an established clinical history—it's got a reputation in India as a cure-all and it’s been studied in several western trials with mice and cancer patients. Though there is no evidence to date that curcumin will help Alzheimer's patients, Ringman hopes it will be more effective than other drugs and have fewer side effects because it seems to gently affect a number of biological processes associated with Alzheimer's disease instead of targeting just one.
In Alzheimer's patients, protein plaques accumulate in the brain and result in a cascade of damaging neurological events. The protein plaques release oxygen-free radicals, tiny agents that steal extra electrons from other molecules in the brain through a process called oxidation. The body’s natural response to these plaques and free radicals, which are much like splinters, is inflammation. Scientists think this long-term inflammation may ultimately cause brain cell death and the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. The database of Alzheimer's research also associates high cholesterol and high blood pressure with Alzheimer's disease.
Curcumin is found in the spice turmeric
Currently, treating Alzheimer's disease is mostly limited to breaking down plaques, easing inflammation and reducing cholesterol and blood pressure, but only with separate drugs. So far no one pill has been able to ease all the symptoms. Now Cole and Ringman think a high-dose curcumin capsule may be able to do just that.
"It's been known for a long time that curcumin has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and cholesterol-lowering properties," says Ringman. "All three processes we think are involved in the development of Alzheimer's disease, therefore it’s a logical candidate compound to study."
Ringman's trial will include 33 Alzheimer's patients. He wants to how they respond to as much as four grams of curcumin a day—about the equivalent of 60 curry meals a day. The doses need to be high because stomach juices absorb most of the curcumin. But the bit that does make it into the bloodstream easily crosses the blood-brain barrier—something that is good for treating Alzheimer’s disease.
Ringman has been giving some of his own Alzheimer’s patients curcumin capsules. He says they "seem to tolerate the medication well," but adds, "it doesn't seem to have cured anybody at this point." Ringman and Cole do not expect the curcumin to clear patient's brains of Alzheimer's plaques, but they hope to see the curcumin affecting some of the disease processes in the blood stream and in the spinal fluid (including inflammation, oxidation, and cholesterol). If they see a preliminary effect on these processes and the study's participants have limited side effects, then they will be able to move ahead with a larger trial.
"One of the exciting things about curcumin is that inflammation and oxidative damage are involved in a number of disease processes that affect aging people including cancer, atherosclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and arthritis," says Cole. “Developing it as a therapeutic or a preventative agent may offer benefits to other diseases of aging."