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Can Eating Curry Stop the Onset of Dementia?

Curcumin, which is found in the spice turmeric, may stop the onset of dementia, according to new research.

A Jar of curry powder

Having a weekly curry meal could help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, it has been suggested. Curcumin, which is a found in the spice turmeric, appeared to prevent the spread of amyloid protein plaques which are thought to cause dementia, in tests done by a US research team. The theory was recently presented at the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ annual meeting.

Dementia is brought on by the wiring of the cells in the brain beginning to decay. Amyloid plaques, along with tangles of nerve fibres, are thought to contribute to this decay. Professor Murali Doraiswamy, of Duke University in North Carolina, claims that there is evidence that those who eat curry (or another dish which uses large amounts of turmeric) two or three times a week have a lower risk of dementia. He also told the meeting that researchers were testing the effect of higher doses to see if the positive effects could be increased.

Professor Doraiswamy undertook experiments on mice and after riddling a year old mouse’s brain with plaques, found that after feeding the mouse a diet with a high amount of curcumin the plaques were dissipated. A similar diet prevented younger mice from forming new plaques. Plans are now underway to test curcumin on human amyloid plaques in clinical trials at the University of California on people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Histopathogic image of senile plaques seen in the cerebral cortex of an Alzheimer’s sufferer.

However, Professor Doraiswamy was keen to stress that eating a curry could not offset the increased risk of dementia which is associated with a bad diet. Having a good diet, exercising regularly and eating curry frequently could help dementia though. Professor Doraiswamy also suggested that in the near future it may be possible to develop a ‘curry pill’ which had similar effects to those which have been seen in the animal based trials.  

Curry’s miraculous medicinal qualities have been treated with skepticism by some people in the medical community however. It has been highlighted that people would have to eat a very large amount of turmeric curry powder – over 100g – to get a ‘clinical dose’ of curcumin. Also, these apparent results have only been seen in mice under laboratory conditions; whether they apply to human beings is a different story altogether.

What is true however, is that communities such as those in the Sub-Continent that eat curcumin regularly have a very low incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and it is not yet known why.  Curcumin is inexpensive, easy to access and harmless. If the clinical trials on humans provide some positive results then the lives of a great number of people around the world with the condition could be improved, here’s hoping the results of the human tests are as successful as those on mice.  

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  1. I enjoyed this article more when I saw it on the BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8080630.stm

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