7 Evidence Based Benefits Of Turmeric In Alzheimer’s

I have been asked by a few readers if I can write on benefits of turmeric for Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease destroys mental functions and memory and causes dementia. The resultant loss of social and intellectual skills could affect day-to-day life.

There is no cure for this disease although there are management strategies and medications that can improve symptoms in the short-term and help Alzheimer’s patients function independently for longer.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include memory loss, disorientation, problems with speaking, writing, thinking, reasoning, making decisions and judgments, performing familiar tasks and changes in behavior or personality.

Alzheimer’s usually affects older people and could be caused by a combination of environmental factors, genetics or lifestyle.

There are 2 abnormalities that can affect the brain cells of patients with Alzheimer’s – plaques and tangles. Plaques result in beta-amyloid proteins clumps forming in the brain cells and inn tangles, tau protein needed for normal brain functioning get tangled. Both cause decline and damage of brain cells.

Treatment for Alzheimer’s involves medications to improve cognitive function and memory. Research is investigating various therapeutic modules for Alzheimer’s disease. Also there should be more focus on prevention of Alzheimer’s.

7 Benefits of Turmeric In Alzheimer’s

Turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin have multiple properties that benefit in Alzheimer’s.

1. It prevents accumulation beta amyloid plaques

Curcumin inhibits formation of beta amyloid plaques by various mechanisms. It inhibits the action of presenilin-1, one of the core proteins that contribute to formation of these plaques.

Animal as well as experimental studies reveal that curcumin reduces aggregation of amyloid beta plaques even at low dose.

Curcumin disrupts beta amyloid plaques fibrils and prevents neurotoxicity. Curcumin and demethoxycurcumin (a natural curcuminoid) is found to prevent accumulation of both beta amyloid and tau proteins in Alzheimer’s.

By virtue of its ability to clear beta amyloid plaques, researchers are investigating the prospective of developing inhalable curcumin treatment for Alzheimer’s.

Bukhari et. al have identified various curcumin derivatives that clear beta amyloid toxicity and can benefit in Alzheimer’s. Curcumin derivatives are also found to inhibit tau protein aggregates.

What does this means?
Curcumin has anti-amyloidogenic properties- it prevents formation of amyloid beta plaques as well as helps in clearance of such plaques. Curcumin also inhibits aggregation of tau protein in Alzheimer’s disease.

2. It naturally curbs inflammation

Neuroinflammation or inflammation of the brain is observed in Alzheimer’s disease which occurs as a result of trauma, exposure to oxidative agents, infection and formation of beta amyloid plaques.

Research suggests that use of NSAIDs such as chronic use of ibuprofen can reduce risk of Alzheimer’s, but it is vital to note that these NSAIDs cause other toxicity.

Lim et. al have proven that curcumin can be a natural alternative to such NSAIDs and help reduce neuroinflammation.

A study published in Neurochemistry International, 2016 identifies curcumin as one of the candidates that reduce inflammation in Alzheimer’s.

Curcumin inhibits inflammation in Alzheimer’s by preventing amyloid beta plaques and acting on nuclear factor kappa B- a major protein that regulates inflammation.

The unique structure of curcumin is very essential in reducing inflammation and amyloid beta plaques in Alzheimer’s.

What does this mean?
Curcumin can naturally help reduce inflammation in the brain and protect from nerve cell degeneration in Alzheimer’s disease.

3. It improves antioxidant defense

Exposure to heavy metal contaminants , risks the accumulation of such metals in the brain which trigger inflammation and accumulation of amyloid beta plaques in the brain.

Curcumin derivatives are found to inhibit accumulation of such heavy metals in Alzheimer’s diseases.

A study published in Food Chemistry, 2016 investigated the role of various dietary antioxidants in Alzheimer’s disease. They served as metal chelators, prevented formation of reactive oxygen species and inhibition formation of amyloid beta plaque.

Among the various antioxidants tested, curcumin was found to benefit in various aspects of treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease including metal chelation or removal of heavy metal.

Huang et. al have demonstrated that curcumin reduces oxidative stress in animal model of Alzheimer’s and thereby decreasing brain cell loss.

Curcumin’s antioxidant action counteracts reactive oxygen species that contribute to progression of Alzheimer’s disease and protects from neurotoxicity.

Mitochondria are power houses of the cells and dysfunction of these units are observed in Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin as an antioxidant can protect from such mitochondrial dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease.

What does this mean?
Curcumin’s antioxidant action scavenges free radical species, reactive oxygen species and heavy metal ions; cumulative effect of which protect nerve cells in Alzheimer’s.

4. It is neuroprotective

Chin et. al comment that curcumin can serve as a neuroprotective (protecting the brain) agent in Alzheimer’s disease by virtue of its anti-amyloidogenic, antiinflammatory, anti-oxidative, and metal chelating properties.

Animal study shows that curcumin reverses amyloid beta formation and ameliorates structural changes in neurons.

Curcumin nanoparticles are being investigated in relation to treatment of Alzheimer’s and experimental study suggests that curcumin can support neurogenesis- a brain self repair mechanism.

Curcumin may offer neuroprotection in Alzheimer’s disease by inducing autophagy- a form of cell death which in normal conditions can help degrade amyloid beta.

Though most studies are focussed on curcumin’s therapeutic efficacy in Alzheimer’s disease, a study published in Phytotherapy Research, 2014 reveals that curcuminoids mixture present naturally in turmeric may have a better medicinal value in Alzheimer’s disease.

Another experimental study by Ahmed et. al also suggests that curcuminoids mixture is more beneficial than curcumin in balancing brain related chemicals and protecting memory in Alzheimer’s.

What does this mean?
Turmeric as well as curcumin are naturally neuroprotective agents that protect nerve cells as well as cognitive function in neurodegenerative diseases.

5. It protects memory and cognition

Research proves that curcuminoids enhance memory in Alzheimer’s.

Glial fibrillary acidic protein is commonly expressed in nerve cells but in Alzheimer’s it is identified as a marker of neurodegeneration or degeneration of nerve cells.

Experimental study shows that curcumin regulates the expression of this protein in order to protect memory and prevent Alzheimer’s disease progression.

Curcumin protects nerve cells and improves learning and memory abilities in Alzheimer’s disease. A study published in Plos One 2015, suggests that curcumin improves cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease by elevating the levels of BDNF- a protein that supports nerve growth.

Animal study shows that by virtue of its antioxidant property, curcumin can prevent sudden onset of dementia in Alzheimer’s.

A study published in British Journal of Nutrition, 2016 examined the effect of curcumin supplementation in older individuals and their cognitive function. The study lasted for 12 months.

Cognitive decline was observed in placebo group but not in curcumin group.

Brondino et. al comment that curcumin is safe for short term use in dementia but till date there is insufficient evidence to comment upon the clinical use of curcumin in dementia.

What does this mean?
Various animal studies suggest that curcumin enhances memory and protects from dementia in Alzheimer’s. Clinical study demonstrates that curcumin protects cognitive function in elderly but more studies are required to confirm this.

6. It can strengthen immune responses

Neuroimmunomodulation describes the nerve cell damage caused by uncontrolled inflammatory process.

Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by certain immune defects; under normal conditions the immune system clears amyloid beta plaques but this is not the case in Alzheimer’s.

Cashman et. al have proven that bisdemethoxycurcumin, a natural curcuminoid restores immune function in Alzheimer’s and stimulates immune cells to clear amyloid beta plaques by phagocytosis (process by which immune cells engulf damaged cells and debris).

Bisdemethoxycurcumin does this by regulating the expression of genes that have caused defective immune function.

Zhang et. al isolated immune cells from Alzheimer’s disease patients and treated them with curcuminoids. Treatment with curcuminoids enhanced the ability of immune cells to clear amyloid beta under experimental conditions.

This suggests that curcuminoids can serve as a novel immunotherapy in Alzheimer’s disease.

What does this mean?
Curcuminoids can enhance the immune system function to clear amyloid beta plaques.

7. It can prevent Alzheimer’s

Dietary curcumin protects the aging brain which suggests why India has a lower incidence of neurodegenerative disorders than USA.

A review article published in British Journal of Nutrition, 2016 suggests that curcumin can prevent Alzheimer’s owing to its ability to prevent deposition of beta amyloid plaques, affect its metabolism and prevent cognitive dysfunction.

The expression of certain genes predispose one to develop Alzheimer’s. Dietary intake of curcumin and grape seed polyphenols can prevent such genomic instability in Alzheimer’s.

Histone deacetylase is an enzyme that regulates DNA formation and genetic expression. Inhibitors of this enzyme find their use in various disorders such as psychiatric conditions, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

Curcumin also acts as an inhibitor of this enzyme and prevents development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Reddy et. al suggest that curcumin works better in prevention rather than treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

A study published in Nutrition Journal, 2010 reveals that low dose supplementation of curcumin with lipids (fat) in healthy individuals results in lowering of plasma beta amyloid levels.

What does this mean?
Curcumin is a natural epigenetic agent and antioxidant which protects aging brain and dietary inclusion of curcumin can prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Does turmeric/curcumin clinically help in Alzheimer’s disease?

Few researchers have investigated the role of curcumin supplementation in Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Baum et. al conducted the first study in 2008 investigating the effect of curcumin supplementation in Alzheimer’s patients for 6 months.

The study involved 34 Chinese patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and above the age of 50. They received either 0, 1 or 4g of curcumin either in capsule or powder form along with gingko leaf extract.

The amyloid beta levels in the blood increased with curcumin treatment suggesting that curcumin was able to disrupt amyloid beta plaques in the brain and disintegrate them.

However there were no differences in cognitive decline in placebo and treatment group and the symptoms of Alzheimer’s were not relieved. Also a couple of adverse events were noted.

Therefore despite of changes at a biochemical level, curcumin did not benefit in Alzheimer’s clinically.

Researchers at UCLA conducted a study where 36 individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease were treated with either placebo, 2g or 4g of curcumin (Curcumin C3 complex). Various biochemical tests were conducted as well as cognitive function was studied.

The study lasted for 24 weeks. No biochemical test showed any clinical efficacy of curcumin treatment. Also curcumin was not detected in the body due to its rapid metabolism. 3 patients from the curcumin group experienced gastrointestinal side effects.

The study by Hishikawa et.al is the only study that shows moderate clinical efficacy of turmeric in Alzheimer’s.

3 individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia were involved in this study.
The first patient was an 83 year old female who have developed memory loss and progressive dementia since 76.

She suffered from anxiety, irritability, agitation and urinary incontinence. She was unable to perform household tasks and required a caregiver. She received conventional treatment and Yokukansan.

With 1 year of turmeric treatment , which was at a dose of 764 mg turmeric (100mg of curcumin per day) she experienced significant relief from dementia. Within 12 weeks of treatment, difference in symptoms as well as reduced requirement of caregiver help was observed.

Anxiety, agitation and urinary incontinence was relieved. Within a year she started identifying her family, was reminded of her late husband and lived peacefully without symptoms of dementia.

The second patient was an 84 year old female with severe cognitive decline and dementia. She experienced hallucination, disorientation, forgetfulness, depression and could not be treated with standard therapy due to side effects. She was prescribed Yokukansan and atypical antipsychotic drugs.

With turmeric treatment her symptoms of anxiety, depression, hallucination and agitation were relieved. Within 12 weeks dementia related symptoms were reduced and she could distinguish family members from staff.

The third patient was a 79 year old male who experienced short term memory loss and was being treated with standard therapy. He was also being treated for hypertension.

12 week treatment with turmeric reduced anxiety, depression and irritability. Scoring for his cognitive function improved and his calculation concentration and spontaneous writing improved.

All the patients continued turmeric treatment for more than a year and were reported to live peacefully with family. Researchers concluded that multiple properties of turmeric like ability to regulate neurotransmitters, reduce inflammation and antioxidant action benefit in Alzheimer’s.

Therefore it should be considered as an add-on therapy to standard treatment in Alzheimer’s to relieve dementia and improve quality of life in Alzheimer’s.

It is important to note that the last study utilized turmeric and the treatment lasted for 1 year. Keeping these factors in mind more clinical studies should be conducted to evaluate the efficacy of chronic treatment of turmeric in more bioavailable forms in Alzheimer’s disease.

What does this mean?
Till date sufficient clinical evidence is not available to comment on the clinical efficacy of curcumin or turmeric in Alzheimer’s disease. Addition of turmeric (close to 1g per day) is found to relieve dementia related symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients.

FAQS on Turmeric & Alzheimer’s

Here is a list of commonly asked questions in relation to turmeric’s therapeutic efficacy in Alzheimer’s with answers.

1. Can turmeric treat Alzheimer’s disease?
Turmeric and curcumin have various properties that are proven to benefit in Alzheimer’s disease.

However no clinical trial confirms its clinical utility in Alzheimer’s which could be caused by its limited absorption. Dietary turmeric could be of help in improving immunity and quality of life in Alzheimer’s disease.

2. Does turmeric reduce dementia?
Various animal studies prove that turmeric and curcumin reduce and reverse dementia. Only 1 study confirms the beneficial effect of turmeric treatment in reversing dementia in Alzheimer’s over a period of 1 year.

Various other studies suggest that curcumin supplementation protects cognitive function in the elderly. More studies are required for concrete data on this.

3. Can turmeric prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
Countries consuming turmeric in diet on a daily basis have reduced incidence of neurodegenerative diseases. Curcumin’s property to regulate genes and antioxidant property can help in prevention of Alzheimer’s.

4. What dose of turmeric should I take for Alzheimer’s?
This depends on the form of turmeric you take. We recommend taking Golden Paste and the details have been highlighted in the Dosage section below.

5. Should I take whole turmeric or curcumin for Alzheimer’s?
We recommend whole turmeric or turmeric powder for Alzheimer’s over curcumin as it contains curcumin as well as other therapeutic compounds. Also clinical evidence suggests that turmeric may be more beneficial than curcumin in Alzheimer’s.

6. Is it safe to take turmeric/Golden Paste with turmeric supplements in Alzheimer’s?
Yes it is safe to take Golden Paste or turmeric in diet when taking supplements; however it is advisable to limit to low doses say 1-2 teaspoon in a day to avoid gastric discomfort.

7. Can I take turmeric with standard medications in Alzheimer’s?
Yes it is safe to take turmeric in diet when taking medications for Alzheimer’s. If taking large doses of Golden Paste avoid taking it close to the time of taking other medicines. Consult a doctor before taking turmeric supplements.

8. How long does it take for turmeric to benefit in Alzheimer’s?
There is not sufficient clinical evidence available on this and it also depends on the severity of the condition. Chronic therapy of 3-6 months may be necessary.

9. Are there any side effects or precautions to note about turmeric?
Turmeric when taken in diet in moderate doses is safe. However there are a certain precautions that you should be aware of and these have been discussed below in Precautions section.

10. Should turmeric be avoided in gout?
Low doses of turmeric in diet can be used in gout but for a therapeutic purpose it is preferable to take turmeric supplements. Please read Precautions section.

11. I am taking a blood thinner, can I take turmeric?
Turmeric in small amounts in diet is safe but turmeric supplements should be avoided in case of bleeding/clotting disorder. It is advisable to discuss this with your doctor.

Dosage of Turmeric for Alzheimer’s

There is no specific dose of turmeric prescribed for Alzheimer’s. Dietary turmeric is safe and inclusion in diet can help prevent Alzheimer’s.

1 teaspoon of turmeric powder included in divided doses in cooking through the day can help protect aging brain and aid in prevention of neurodegenerative diseases.

Golden Paste incorporates turmeric with black pepper and healthy fats for better absorption. Here is the recipe for Golden Paste made from turmeric powder. If making it from fresh roots then find the recipe here.

Start with small doses such as ¼-1/2 tsp a day for a week and if no gastric side effects are seen increase gradually by ¼-1/2 tsp every week. The recommend dose is 1-2 tsp 2-3 times a day (precisely 1 tsp 3 times a day).

Avoid taking on an empty stomach and if taking large doses avoid taking it the same time of taking medications. Maintain 3-4 hour gap. (Read Does Turmeric cause acid reflux? Black pepper in GP: Does it cause drug interaction?)

The ideal dose differs from person to person; some require less while some require more. It depends on what suits you and what dose your stomach can tolerate.

This dose can aid in prevention of Alzheimer’s and also can aid improving immunity and antioxidant defense in Alzheimer’s patient. This dose can also help in protecting memory and cognitive function in healthy individuals.

If opting for supplements, consult a health practitioner prior.

Precautions

Dietary turmeric is very safe but a few precautions need to be considered when it comes to turmeric supplements:

  • Avoid in pregnancy and lactation
  • Avoid if suffering from gall bladder obstruction
  • Avoid if suffering from a bleeding disorder
  • Discontinue prior to surgery

If suffering from gout or at risk of developing kidney stones, limit intake of turmeric as a spice. (Is turmeric safe in gout? Does turmeric cause kidney stone?)

Avoid taking turmeric on an empty stomach to avoid acid reflux symptoms. (Does turmeric cause acid reflux?)

If suffering from a bleeding disorder, small doses of turmeric in diet are safe but it is best to consult a doctor before taking turmeric or turmeric supplements in this case.

A general precaution is outlined that turmeric may have drug interactions with stomach acid reducing medication, antidepressants, blood sugar reducing drugs etc.

Curcumin found in turmeric is known to interfere in drug metabolism. Hence it is advised not to take curcumin supplements concomitantly with any other medicine.

Conclusion

Around 5.4 million Americans are affected with Alzheimer’s, 5.2 million above the age of 65 while the rest suffer from early onset Alzheimer’s.

Turmeric benefits in neurodegenerative disorders as a result of its neuroprotective action, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. Daily incorporation of turmeric in diet can reduce prevalence of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Research shows that curcumin and turmeric have multiple properties that can serve to be therapeutic in Alzheimer’s. However more clinical studies are required to confirm the effectiveness of turmeric and curcumin treatment in Alzheimer’s disease.

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