Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is characterized by neurocognitive disorders and is believed to be the most common form of dementia. Patients with AD exhibit behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Many patients with AD end up being unable to recognize members of their family. The emotional and financial costs of caregiving for such a patient are staggering.
Of late, natural remedies have been flooding the market with claims to improve cognitive function. One such natural remedy is turmeric, the yellow spice used in Indian curries. Turmeric has been used in the traditional Indian medicine form, Ayurveda, and is known to possess anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. By virtue of these characteristics, turmeric became a viable candidate for research on its effects on diseases that result in neurocognitive disorders.
The scientific name of turmeric is Curcuma longa. Curcumin and aromatic-turmerone are the major bioactive compounds of the herb. Hishikawa and his coworkers used curcumin to treat three AD patients over a period of 12 weeks. Following treatment, the patients’ behavioral symptoms improved without any adverse effects. The authors concluded “turmeric treatment adding to the routine therapy increase the quality of life and activities of daily living of patients and ease caregivers’ burden.”
Aromatic-tumerone, on the other hand, has been found to regenerate neural stem cells (NSCs). In experiments with cultured fetal rat NSCs as well as adult rats, treatment with aromatic-tumerone was found to increase the number of these cells. Cell differentiation in the treated cells was faster compared to non-treated cells. Using a non-invasive imaging technique, the study found aromatic-turmerone to mobilize NSCs from the sub ventricular zone or SVZ, as well as the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus in adult rat brains. Both these regions are considered neurogenic niches. The authors proposed “aromatic-turmerone constitutes a promising future drug candidate to support regeneration in neurologic disorders.”
The results are promising in light of epidemiological studies in which the rate of occurrence of AD and dementias in Mumbai, India were reported to be lower than in developed countries. Turmeric is widely used in Indian cooking. Whether a correlation exists would be an interesting topic to study. At this time, however, scientific data generated using this spice’s bioactive compounds look promising.
Written by Mangala Sarkar Ph.D.