Turmeric (Curcumin) is an old spice that is used in traditional Asian/Indian medicine and is related to the ginger root. Known for its various uses, it is not just limited to the culinary scene (curry powders) but also as an alternative for therapeutic abilities. In China and India the spice is being used to help treat certain inflammatory ailments and even diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).
It has been used for gastric pain, bringing down fevers, and even relief in the sensation of bloating. It has been used for attempting to curing hepatitis and heart disease. In Ayurveda medicine (a system of traditional/alternative medicine native to India) the ginger root is being prescribed not only for arthritic pain, but for decreased vision, and for coughs. In Southeast Asia, it is being given as an anti-parasitic remedy and for various gastrointestinal tract problems. Curcumin, which is extracted from turmeric, has been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and to reduce beta-amyloid and plaque burden in lab studies. Beta-amyloid is a component of the amyloid plaques that accumulate in the brain of an individual with AD. (Fetrow/Avila, 2000)
Turmeric contains curcuminoids such as curcumin which is a yellow pigment. Research studies in animals show that curcumin has the following health benefits: •potent anti-inflammatory effects •cancer prevention activities •antioxidant effects •stimulates and enhances the immune system •antibacterial and antiviral properties, including against HIV •blood-thinning effects Most of these research studies are done in animals only and few are done in human subjects. The positive results from these studies suggest that turmeric possesses many benefits for treating and possibly curing some of our common health problems.
Chronic inflammation of the nerve cells is one of the precursors of AD. Patients who have used drugs such as ibuprofen for long periods of time have been shown to have a reduced risk of developing symptoms of AD. There is a risk when using a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory for prolonged periods. They can cause a toxic effect on the gastrointestinal track, kidneys and liver. However, turmeric has an anti-inflammatory effect that is very potent and because of those various effects, turmeric may have a part in curing and improving cognitive functions in AD. (PubMed 2008)
Various studies and research indicate a lower rate of AD in India. The prevalence of AD among adults ranging from 70-79 years in India is 4.4 times less than that of adults ranging from 70-79 years in the United States. Researchers have examined the association between the consumption of turmeric and cognitive levels in 1,010 Asians between 60 and 93 years of age. The study found that those who occasionally ate curry (less than once a month) and those who ate it more often (more than once a month) performed better on a standard test of cognitive functions than those who ate curry never or rarely. (PubMed, 2000)
Pharmacokinetics shows that the curcumin extract of turmeric has an estimated bioavailability of 65% after oral administration and inhibits cytochrome P-450 isoenzyme 1A1 and is metabolized by glucuronidation. (MedScape, 2010)
Curcumin has been used safely as a culinary spice in Asia for centuries. It is estimated that adults in India ingest 80-200 mg of curcumin daily. There are no reported adverse effects of curcumin or turmeric, except stomach upset, nausea and diarrhea and some rare cases of allergic contact dermatitis. There is a caution when taking Warfarin, blood thinners or having a bleeding disorder. Some reports show that taking turmeric along with blood thinning medications such as Plavix, Aspirin or Coumadin (warfarin) might increase the risk of bleeding. If there is a presence of stomach ulcers, caution is advised as turmeric may worsen existing stomach problems. Curcumin is also known to cause the gallbladder to contract and can worsen any conditions that may already be present. (Fetrow/Avila, 2000, NCCAM, 2010)
In conclusion, there is the hope that turmeric (curcumin) will lead to a promising treatment for AD. The clinical studies of the chemical properties of curcumin and its various effects on AD shows that further research is needed to develop better drugs based on curcumin for treating AD. The need for large-scale human studies is required to identify the therapeutic effects of curcumin.
However, several unanswered questions remain: •What is the one main chemical property of curcumin that can be exploited in treating AD? •What is the role of curcumin in other neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and other forms of dementias? •How does curcumin interact with neuronal plaques?
• Is it effective only as a food additive? •Would it be effective when used alone or with other anti-inflammatory drugs? Once researches can answer these questions, maybe there will be a clearer path to the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.