Curcumin and Other Spices In Medicine
Curcumin [1,7-bis(4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl)-1,6-heptadiene-2,5-dione] the spice commonly used in most curry preparations throughout the middle east, but predominately associated with Indian cuisine, is a yellow, polyphenolic compound derived from the turmeric (Curcuma longa) plant. Turmeric, a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant is a member of the ginger family and native to the Indian subcontinent.
The use of turmeric for medicinal purposes in nothing new. The colorful root has been part of ancient Middle Eastern medicine for thousands of years, specifically for treatment of arthritis, some cancers, and cardiovascular disease, due to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiamyloid properties, and now, for its possible anti-TAU effects that may offer neuroprotection for several, currently untreatable conditions.
Epidemiological studies indicate a lower prevalence of Alzheimer disease among the Indian population who regularly consume Indian curry. In addition, a link between dietary curry consumption and improvement in cognitive performance among older adults is supportive of the hypothesis that consumption of this ancient herb may provide neuroprotective benefits.
Curcumin and Neuroprotective Benefits
Yet, curcumin’s potential as a medicine and neuroprotective benefits have not been confirmed in initial placebo-controlled human trials. Those who consume curcumin as a homoeopathic treatment acknowledge that in its natural form, it has limited bioavailability. Homeopathic practitioners recommend combing curcumin with olive oil and black pepper for its piperine. Piper nigrum, the pepper plant which produces piperine is also native to the Indian sub-continent. Piperine is currently being researched for its potential to affect the bioavailability of other compounds in food, including its effect on the bioavailability of curcumin.
In this study by Small, Siddarth, et al., a long term, double-blind, placebo controlled trial of a bioavailable form of curcumin (Theracurmin®) containing 90 mg of curcumin taken orally, twice daily in non-demented adults led to significant memory and attention benefits. Pre and post neuroimaging (FDDNP-PET Scans) reveal that the cognitive benefits are associated with decreases in plaque and “tangle accumulation” likely due to curcumin’s anti-inflammatory and/or antiamyloid effect in brain regions that mediate memory, and to a lesser extent, mood.
Why Does This Matter?
It is well established that persons with substance use disorders often develop premature, age-related memory loss and loss of cognitive and executive function. A recent study (2017) showed a statistically significant association between the use of cannabis in adolescence and an 8 point decline in IQ at age 38. At present, there are no pharmacological therapeutics that offer any remedy for neurodegenerative disease or for memory enhancement. Accordingly, the ongoing trials with curcumin should be followed closely for its potential as medicine.
Small GW, Siddarth P et al. Memory and Brain Amyloid and Tau Effects of a Bioavailable Form of Curcumin in Non-Demented Adults: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled 18-Month Trial. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2017 Oct 27. pii: S1064-7481(17)30511-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2017.10.010. [Epub ahead of print]