Is Curry the Answer to Alzheimer's?
Byline: MARTYN HALLE
A KEY ingredient in curries could turn out to be an important new weapon in the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's disease.
Scientists have found that curcumin stops the accumulation of destructive beta amyloids that build up in the brains of sufferers.
Curcumin is the part of turmeric that gives it its distinctive yellow colour. Turmeric has been used in Asian cookery for thousands of years, is one of the cheaper spices and makes a vivid splash of colour in curries.
Ground from the root of a plant of the ginger family, it is found wild in the Himalayas and grown across South Asia. Though a regular in spicy dishes such as chicken tikka masala and rogan josh, turmeric powder itself has a subtle, almost bland, taste.
Turmeric has already been found to slow prostate cancer and can be bought in capsules. It could eventually be used as a drug or supplement to prevent people developing Alzheimer's in much the same was as statins are used to prevent heart attacks.
Doctors agree that amyloid plaques (abnormal build-ups of a protein fragment known as beta amyloids) are responsible for the memory loss which marks Alzheimer's.
The latest study - carried out by experts at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) - used mice. The results, published in the Journal Of Biological Chemistry, suggest that curcumin would not only prevent the build-up in patients who already have the degenerative brain disease, but act to block the plaques developing in the first place.
Scientists discovered that a chemical in the yellow pigment of the spice was responsible for prevention and dispersal of beta amyloid. The UCLA team has started human trials which could eventually lead to the development of a drug.
Doctors believe the reason why levels of Alzheimer's are extremely low in India and other curry-eating countries could be due to the protective effects of curcumin.
In the UCLA study, because of its chemical makeup, curcumin was able to cross the blood-brain barrier so that it could eliminate amyloid plaques. It also reduced the build-up of beta amyloid by as much as 21 per cent.
In earlier studies, the same research team found curcumin was a powerful antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties, which scientists believe help ease the symptoms of Alzheimer's. …