As we grow older, along with the body, our brain experiences certain changes too. Our neurons cannot remain functionally competent for 100 years.
The structural and functional changes that occur in brain with increasing age leading to its deterioration is known as Brain Aging.
It is characterized by memory loss and brain shrinkage. The cognitive abilities of brain start deteriorating with age.
The person loses the ability to think, react, remember and even talk or walk properly.
It has also been discovered that the brain shrinks and the hippocampal volume decreases with age. The brain cells shrink and number of synapses decrease.
One of the causes of aging brain is increased oxidative stress. Obesity and excessive production of inflammatory cytokines is a couple of few other reasons which lead to deterioration of brain
Effective measures for prevention of these diseases and delay of the symptoms are necessary for living healthily during old age.
Combating Aging with the Help of Turmeric
Here, we are going to talk about how Turmeric, a natural, plant- based spice can be helpful in prevention and treatment of the aging brain.
Turmeric is a popular spice native to India. It is obtained from the dried rhizome of the plant Curcuma longa.
It is widely used in food industry because of the golden-yellow color and flavor it provides to the curry.
It is also used as a food preservative. Apart from this, Turmeric also has a wide application in health care industry.
Let us find out through scientific evidences if turmeric can be useful in delaying aging or alleviate its symptoms or not.
1. Turmeric improves cognitive function and memory
When a person starts growing older, he experiences problems in remembering stuff. Concentrating on tasks, learning new things and making decisions becomes difficult.
This is referred to as cognitive impairment. Cognitive impairment is characterized by working memory loss, repetition of questions/ stories, not able to judge or plan, not being able to recognize familiar people, mood swings, vision problems etc. .
Scientists believe that curcumin, the active compound of turmeric has the ability to improve cognitive function.
A number of research studies have been conducted to investigate the usefulness of Curcumin in boosting memory and cognition.
Curcumin supplements like Longvida Curcumin have proven beneficial in improving working memory in healthy older adults.
In a study conducted by scientists from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne and published in the ‘Journal of Psychopharmacology’, 60 healthy individuals (age: between 50 and 85) were randomly administered with either longvida curcumin (400 mg per day) or placebo for four weeks.
After 1 hour of Curcumin treatment, improved working memory and sustained attention were noted.
4 weeks of Curcumin dosage was successfully ameliorated cognitive impairment, reduced fatigue (by 1.82%) and psychological stress.
However, the actual mechanism is not yet known, it has been suggested that fatigue might be reduced because of energy maintenance, AMP-activated protein Kinase and glucose regulation.
Not only Curcumin supplements are useful for boosting working memory, but addition of dried powdered curcumin or turmeric in everyday diet can also be helpful.
Researchers from Monash University conducted a trial with a mere 1 gram of turmeric added to a white bread breakfast of older people suffering from pre-diabetes. They tested the working memory of the subjects before and after a few hours of the breakfast.
They found that addition of only 1 gram of turmeric to an otherwise nutritionally bland breakfast could successfully enhance the working memory over 6 hours in aged individuals.
A study also monitored the effects of curry with high quantity of Curcumin on cognitive performance of older individuals. Mini- mental state examination (MMSE) was used to measure the cognitive functions.
It was found that MMSE scores were significantly higher in people with regular curry consumption than others suggesting that Curcumin has positive effects on memory loss and cognitive impairment of the elderly.
What it means?
These studies suggest that Curcumin supplements as well as powdered curcumin or turmeric with food are useful for enhancing working memory and preventing cognitive impairment.
A modest addition of only 1 gram turmeric in food everyday can do wonders in prevention of memory loss. It alleviates fatigue and tiredness and uplifts the mood.
2. It can protect from Alzheimer’s disease
Age is major cause of Alzheimer’s disease. It is a common neurodegenerative disease. The tangles form because of improper folding of a protein called Tau. There is accumulation of beta- amyloid in the brain .
This damages the mitochondria in the brain as beta amyloid binds with ABAD enzyme of mitochondria and modulates its function.The functions of various mitochondrial enzymes decline and oxidative stress increases in AD brain. Dementia is an important characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
The cognitive impairment is so severe that the person’s efficiency, memory, performance and social abilities get destroyed. There are changes in the white matter of brain.
Neurons, blood vessels and astrocyte glial cells also experience changes with age. Astrocytes protect the blood vessels and secrete growth factors for formation of new neurons.
Curcumin has powerful therapeutic effects against AD. The anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and lipophilic properties of Curcumin make it highly useful for the treatment.
A group of scientists performed an experiment to test the efficacy of Curcumin in treating AD.The study lasted for 24 weeks and involved 36 patients suffering from AD.
They were randomly administered with either placebo capsules (2g per day) or oral Curcumin (4g per day). Side effects, results of laboratory tests and Alzheimer’s disease assessment scale-cognitive subscale were measured. NPI, ADCS-ADL scores and amyloid beta levels were also studied.
Because of low bioavailability, significant results could not be found but it was seen that Curcumin is generally tolerable by patients.
Another research study found through fluorescence spectroscopy and electron microscopic studies that Curcumin inhibits the formation of amyloid beta fibrils and deposition of amyloid beta peptide.
It has also been seen that aerosolized Curcumin is more effective than intravenous Curcumin injection as it can be easily cross the blood-brain barrier and hence is delivered inside the brain by inhalation.
What it means?
These studies suggest that Alzheimer’s disease is an important consequence of aging. It is characterized by dementia.
Curcumin has neuroprotective effects against AD. It inhibits lipid peroxidation, prevents neuroinflammation and oxidative stress.It prevents the accumulation of beta amyloid in the brain.
3. Turmeric is therapeutic in Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegerative disease which develops slowly with increase in age in people.
The nerve cells slowly cease to produce enough dopamine which affects the movements and emotions of the affected individuals.
Dopamine helps in transmitting messages between the region filled with dopamine-producing neurons and other regions of the brain.It plays an important role in smooth and coordinated muscle movements.
Symptoms include trembling and stiffness of arms and legs etc,slow movement and poor balance and coordination. PD is not fatal but produces severe consequences like depression, constipation, sleep problems or trouble in performing simple tasks.
Most of the drugs used for treatment of PD aim at restoring dopamine levels. But they have a number of side effects and are ineffective against tremor, unstable posture and cognitive impairment.
Studies suggest that Curcumin can be helpful against PD. Researchers have found that aggregation of alpha-synuclein proteins is an important cause of Parkinson’s disease.
They found that Curcumin can bind to these proteins and prevent their aggregation.
This discovery can be very useful in formation of new and effective drugs against the disease.
The anti-oxidant properties of Curcumin produced therapeutic effects in animal model of PD by protecting the number of TH-positive cells and Dopamine levels.
Parkinson’s disease is characterized by depletion of thiol antioxidant glutathione which causes oxidative stress, aberrant mitochondrial functioning and cell death.A group of scientists showed that treatment of dopamine-producing cells with Curcumin restores the levels of glutathione and prevents protein oxidation.
It also protects against mitochondrial dysfunction.
What it means?
These studies suggest that Parkinson’s disease, where dopamine levels start falling, can be effectively cured by turmeric.
It prevents the aggregation of alpha-synuclein proteins and maintains the number of TH-positive cells, levels of dopamine and glutathione protecting against oxidative stress, protein oxidation and mitochondrial dysfunction.
4. It works as an anti-depressant
Depression is a common occurrence due to decline in cognitive function, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or parkinson’s disease in old age . Interestingly, Curcumin possesses potent anti-depressant properties.
The exact mechanism of action of curcumin to produce anti-depressant effects is not well established but it is believed that its effects on serotonin and dopamine levels and monoamine oxidase enzyme are the main reasons of its therapeutic effects.
On the basis of forced swim test in rats, scientists have found that curcumin treatment inhibits the immobility period and increases the levels of serotonin and dopamine.
Review of clinical trials investigating the role of curcumin in depression also point out that curcumin is an effective add on therapy for depression.
What it means?
These studies suggest that by increasing the serotonin and dopamine levels in brain and by inhibiting the activity of monoamine oxidase enzymes, turmeric exhibits anti-depressant activity. It increases neurogenesis in an aging brain.
This can reverse depression in adults suffering from neurodegenerative disorders.
5. Turmeric fights obesity- a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases
Obesity is presence of excessive fat in the body. The BMI (Body Mass Index) is equal to or more than 30.
A research conducted on 112 individuals suggested that people with high waist-hip ratio (WHR) had low brain volume indicating that obesity can lead to neurodegenerative disorders and have a negative impact on vascular and metabolic processes in brain.
A research based on word- list learning test showed that people with higher BMI could recall lesser number of words than people with lower BMI indicating the association of BMI with cognitive decline.
Curcumin has a potential of reducing obesity by a variety of mechanisms. It suppresses the chronic inflammation in white adipose tissue (body fat).
It suppresses the expression of inflammatory cytokines and proteins like NF-KB which play an important role in obesity and increases the expression of adiponectin which works against inflammation in the body fat.
It interacts with certain proteins in cells of adipose tissue, pancreas, liver, muscles and macrophages. It plays an important role in regulation of lipid metabolism, thereby, reducing the chances of obesity.
It also reverses the body’s resistance to insulin which is an important factor causing obesity.
What it means?
Studies suggest that obesity is closely associated with neurodegenerative disorders and decline in cognitive functions. People with increased BMI are more likely to suffer from dementia and related disorders than healthy individuals during old age.
Curcumin, a polyphenolic compound in turmeric has a potential to reduce obesity.It suppresses inflammation in adipose tissue (body fat) and regulates lipid metabolism reducing excessive fat.
6. It is a great anti-inflammatory agent
Pro-inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, proteases and growth factors are produced in an aging brain due to accumulation of senescent cells.
This leads to neurodegeneration. In older brains, the microglial cells also produce pro-inflammatory cytokines like Interleukin- 1 Beta for long durations.
This release is triggered by immune system. This leads to impaired cognitive functioning.Increase in Tumor necrosis factor- alpha, C reactive proteins and Interleukin-6 have also been reported.
Increased expression of 5-lipoxygenase and cycloxygenase- 2 also play a role in producing inflammation in brain. Increased levels of COX-2 lead to oxidative damage and amyloid beta deposition which in turn leads to Alzheimer’s disease.
It has been observed that exposure to inflammatory mediators decreases the hippocampal volume.
Inhibition Of these inflammatory substances can protect the brain fro neurotoxicity and neurodegeneration.
Curcumin is a very powerful anti-inflammatory agent. A review of pre-clinical and clinical research discusses in detail the mechanism of anti-inflammatory action of curcumin.
It indicates that curcumin inhibits the expression of inflammatory enzymes like cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) by suppressing the activation of Nuclear factor kappa B which plays an important role in inflammation, cell proliferation and tumor formation.
It suppresses the expression of cycloxygenase-2 and 5- lipoxygenase. It down- regulates their signaling pathways at transcriptional levels. Tumor necrosis factor- alpha (TNF-alpha) is responsible for production of inflammatory interleukin- 1 beta, Interleukin-6 and Interleukin-8.
A research study published in ‘The Journal of Molecular Medicine’ states that Curcumin suppresses the expression of TNF- alpha, IL-1 beta and IL-6. This effect is produced by its inhibitory effects on NF-KB and MAPK pathways.
What it means?
These studies indicate that Curcumin can help against neurodegeneration in old age by preventing the release of inflammatory cytokines by down-regulating inflammatory pathways.
It suppresses the release of inflammatory cytokines likeInterleukin-1 beta, interleukin-6, cycloxygenase and lipoxygenase by inhibiting NF-kb pathway. It inhibits the release of Tumor necrosis factor alpha thereby reducing inflammatory response of the brain.
7. It works as an antioxidant to fight aging
Oxidative stress increases significantly in aging brain. This is because of increased production of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and Reactive Nitrogen species (RNS).
The concentrations of oxidized proteins and lipid peroxidation products increase. Imbalance between anti- oxidants and pro- oxidants damages the biomolecules like proteins, lipids, nucleic acids and carbohydrates.
Curcumin alleviates the oxidative damage produced in brain. A number of research studies have been conducted to validate this.
A research published in the journal ‘Antioxidants and redox signaling’ reveals that Curcumin up-regulates the expression of HO-1 enzyme in glial cells of brain which acts against oxidative damage.
It also provides resistance to the cells against oxidative damage produced by Glucose Oxidase.
Another research to test if Curcumin can produce therapeutic effects against oxidative damage produced by MPTP, a Parkinsonian neurotoxin, found that Curcumin successfully blocked the GSH depletion and lipid peroxidation caused by MPTP.
What it means?
These studies suggest that Curcumin can reduce the oxidative damage produced in the brain during aging. It enhances the expression of HO-1 which is an anti-oxidant enzyme and suppresses the effects of MPTP neurotoxin.
Turmeric is a very safe and non toxic herbal remedy. It does not produce any significant adverse health conditions when taken in appropriate quantities.
Turmeric should always be consumed in dried powdered form with food as the powdered form is safer than turmeric supplements .
The best way to take turmeric is The Golden Paste. It contains black pepper and oil which increases the absorption of curcumin in the body. 1-2 teaspoons of The Golden Paste once or twice a day can help.
Although turmeric is a very safe and non-toxic herbal remedy, we must take care about the quantity of turmeric consumed.
It is safe and highly beneficial to take turmeric with food in small quantities. We must be cautious in the following situations-
- There is a risk of stomach upset and ulcers with consumed in excessive quantities.
- Since turmeric can reduce blood sugar levels,It can cause hypoglycemia in diabetic patients who are already under prescribed medication.
- They advised to consult a medical practitioner before consuming turmeric in therapeutic doses.
- Turmeric is a blood thinner. Therefore, its consumption should be avoided for at least two weeks before a surgery.
- Breast feeding and pregnant women should also not consume turmeric in therapeutic doses.
Turmeric is a herbal compound obtained from the roots of plant Curcuma longa. It possesses potent anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-tumor and microbial properties and is effective in preventing and treating a number of diseases.
With gradual increase in age, our brain also starts aging. There is loss of memory and cognitive functions. The brain volume decreases and neurons start shrinking. Possible reasons are oxidative stress, production of inflammatory cytokines, amyloid-beta plaque deposition and obesity.
Curcumin, the most bioactive compound of turmeric is capable of providing relief against brain aging symptoms. It helps in enhancing memory and cognitive functions of the brain.
Complications like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia and depression occur in the old age due to neurodegeneration which can be prevented by turmeric.
Thus, it would not be wrong to say that being a very safe, non-toxic, inexpensive and easily available spice, when consumed in appropriate quantities with food every day, Turmeric can produce wonderful therapeutic effects against brain aging.