Elderly people in India have the lowest incidence of Alzheimer’s in the world—only 1%. Scientists believe it is turmeric, a staple of the Indian diet, that causes such a low rate of the disease.
Ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine have used turmeric to treat a variety of ailments, from colic, to menstrual irregularities, even flatulence. Now modern medicine is finding that turmeric could prevent and even treatment Alzheimer’s disease.
Before we look at some of the research, let’s take a second to ask: What is it that makes turmeric so healthy anyways and how to consume it?
The answer is Curcumin. Curcumin is the compound in turmeric that researchers are finding evidence could be responsible for the treatment and prevention in Alzheimer’s disease. Many people think they can just eat turmeric by itself to get its benefits, but really, curcumin is not bioavailable unless consumed with piperine (the active element in black pepper), and fat. Think about it: why do Indian curries often include black pepper and always butter? They're making their curcumin bulletproof! That is why Copper Cup turmeric latte contains black pepper and fat-rich coconut milk powder.
Now the Science
In 2002, scientists at UCLA studied the effects of curcumin on elderly rats. They found it suppressed oxidative (toxic) brain damage and reduced beta-amyloid, a protein that clumps up into a plaque in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The rats who took turmeric supplements also performed better in maze tests. A second study by the same group of scientists found doses of turmeric reduced beta-amyloid buildup, and lowered inflammation and oxidation.
A separate study in 2009 demonstrated optimized turmeric extract, enriched with both curcumin and turmerones (another compound of turmeric), performed better at inhibiting the aggregation and release than of pure curcumin alone.
Three years later, in 2012, scientists administered curcumin to groups of fruit flies exhibiting Alzheimer’s symptoms through genetic manipulation. The flies who received in lived up to 75% longer and maintained their mobility compared to flies who did not receive the curcumin.
Studies continue to research the interaction between properties of turmeric and the proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease, including a 2017 study in Naples designed to isolate and monitor these interactions.
What it boils down to is promising findings that the properties of turmeric act as anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatories and, specifically, clearers of the beta-amyloid proteins that are a prominent characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
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