Turmeric (Curcumin) for Improving Memory and Possibly Preventing Dementia

A recent study argues that a particular form of highly-absorbable turmeric improves memory in non-demented middle-aged adults and may even prevent the development of dementia.

Curcumin is an Indian herb used in curry powder and is derived from turmeric (turmeric gives curry its yellow color). Studies show that there’s a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in Indian people who consume curcumin in curry, as well as a link between dietary curry consumption and better cognitive performance in older adults.

Unfortunately, studies up to this point haven’t shown any neurological benefits from curcumin. So researchers who authored this new study wondered if this was because the type of curcumin used in previous studies wasn’t well-absorbed. Also, the build-up of amyloid and tau protein in Alzheimer’s dementia (which may or may not cause dementia but is certainly strongly associated with it) is thought to develop for decades before people develop the symptoms of dementia. So for a therapy that interferes with the build up of these proteins to be effective, it might need to be started decades before dementia becomes clinically apparent to be effective.

In this new study, therefore, researchers used a form of curcumin called Theracumin, one that results in a 27-fold higher blood concentration compared to that of standard curcumin powder. The study was small (only 37 subjects completed it), but it was randomized, prospective, placebo-controlled, and long (18 months). Subjects were between the ages of 50 and 90, and none had dementia at the start of the study. Participants took 90 mg of curcurmin twice daily. Study end-points were performance on standard cognitive tasks, measurements of levels of depression, and PET scans that estimated the amount of amyloid and tau protein in their brains.

The increased blood concentration levels attained with Theracurmin compared to standard curcumin preparations were confirmed. Subjects taking the Theracurmin showed significant improvements beginning at 6 months off their baseline scores of long-term recall compared to subjects taking placebo, who showed no improvement at all. Visual memory scores also improved in the Theracurmin group but not in the placebo group. Finally, depression scores decreased in the Theracurmin group but the not the placebo group.

Perhaps most interesting was that while at baseline the PET scans showed equivalent amounts of amyloid and tau proteins in both groups, at the end of the study the Thercurmin group showed significantly less of both compared to the placebo group.

The rate of side effects was minimal and comparable in the Theracurmin group and placebo group (some mild gastrointestinal distress in 4 Theracurmin and 2 placebo group subjects).

Thus, ingestion of Theracurmin improved memory performance and mood in middle-aged and older non-demented adults. That it also decreased the burden of amyloid and tau proteins, which are known to be associated with Alzheimer’s dementia, suggests (but doesn’t prove) that Theracurmin ingestion, if begun early enough in life, may decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia.

How does Theracurmin work? We don’t know for sure, but curcumin is known to have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Some studies suggest that mood disorders—as well as Alzheimer’s disease—may be influenced by brain inflammation. Perhaps Theracurmin improves mood by decreasing brain inflammation in some people.

The exact form of Theracurmin used in the study can be purchased from Amazon here. For those concerned about memory decline and the risk of Alzheimer’s dementia, taking Theracurmin twice daily may make good sense. It seems to have little downside, and while this study was small, it was well-designed and strongly suggests real benefit.

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