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Turmeric – Indian cuisine in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease

New evidence indicates that Indian cuisine may be an effective means to prevent Alzheimer’s disease as well as many other degenerative conditions. The key to this discovery is turmeric – specifically, a chemical compound within turmeric called curcumin.

Copyright: <a href=''>melpomen / 123RF Stock Photo</a>Previous studies have shown this chemical has significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. This can provide relief — as well as potentially prevent — numerous inflammation-related conditions.

Turmeric has been traditional used as part of Indian ayurvedic medicine as a means of preventing and treating arthritis. Use of turmeric for this effect was backed up by studies that indicated the anti-inflammatory properties were effective at preventing joint inflammation, though its ability to treat existing conditions was less effective.

A recent study at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has attempted to use turmeric to address the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative condition in which inflammation is thought to play a considerable role. It has been noted within India that those who follow more traditional diets (including moderate amounts of turmeric consumption) show a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, though performed on a small group of people, achieved positive results. Individuals taking part in the study had early onset symptoms of memory decline, associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Across an 18 month period subjects were administered 90mg of turmeric twice a day.

Memory tests were performed at the start of the experiment and periodically throughout. It was found that those who had been taking turmeric twice daily showed a 28 percent increase in memory test performance at the end of the trial period, compared to the same trials at the start of the trial period.

“Exactly how curcumin exerts its effects is not certain, but it may be due to its ability to reduce brain inflammation, which has been linked to both Alzheimer’s disease and major depression,” says Dr Gary Small of the UCLA Brain Research Institute.

The results of the study indicate that turmeric may be an effective means of reducing the symptoms of dementia. However, there is currently no cure for the condition. Any neuronal loss suffered during the pathology of the disease is irreversible, though its progression can be slowed. It is therefore important to prioritise prevention. Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties, if applied over a lifetime as part of a healthy diet, could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Two decades ago Alzheimer’s disease was considered rare in India. However, current estimates place the number of patients with Alzheimer’s disease in India at around 4 million. This figure could triple by 2050. Despite this, there is no government policy in place to address the condition. A lack of preparation means Alzheimer’s could place a huge amount of strain on the healthcare system in the future.

Indians are living longer and adopting westernised diets and lifestyles. As a result, their risk of Alzheimer’s disease increases due to an abundance of unhealthy food and lack of physical activity. Promoting more traditional Indian diets rich in vegetables and antioxidant-containing spices could prove hugely beneficial to the population in the future.

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