Turmeric, a spice typically used in curries and now increasingly in lattes, could help improve memory and mood, according to new research, Evening Standard says.
Curcumin, the compound that gives the spice its rich dark yellow colour, is widely established to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The study, carried out by researcher's at American university UCLA, investigated whether these attributes also contribute to lower rates of Alzheimer's disease found in countries like India, where turmeric is a culinary staple.
The research, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, examined the effects of curcumin on memory performance in people without dementia, as well as its impact on people already suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
“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,” said Dr. Gary Small, author of the study and director of geriatric psychiatry at UCLA’s Longevity Center in the US.
To conduct the investigation, 40 volunteers, aged between 50 and 90 and all presenting mild memory complaints, were split into two groups. Half of them were given 90 milligrams of curcumin to take twice daily for 18 months, while the rest were assigned a placebo.
After monitoring curcumin levels in the participants’ blood and submitting them to cognitive assessments and PET scans, researchers found that those the curcumin takers saw significant improvement in both memory and mood.
Memory tests showed that those taking curcumin improved by 28 percent over the 18 months and experienced mild improvements in mood.
"These results suggest that taking this relatively safe form of curcumin could provide meaningful cognitive benefits over the years,” said Dr Small.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia in the UK and is associated with the deterioration of brain functioning. It can severely affect memory, thinking skills and other mental abilities but its precise causes are not yet fully understood.
The UCLA study’s researchers plan to conduct a follow-up investigation involving a larger number of people. This will allow them to analyse whether curcumin’s memory-enhancing effects vary according to people’s genetic risk of Alzheimer’s, their age or the extent of their cognitive problems.
The group will also include some people with mild depression, so that scientists can explore curcumin's potential antidepressant effects.