12 January - 20 June 2016

Curcumin may help memory and mood

A study by researchers from UCLA and published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry suggests that twice daily supplementation with curcumin can lead to significant memory and mood improvements in adults with mild age-related memory loss.

A study by researchers from UCLA and published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry suggests that twice daily supplementation with curcumin can lead to significant memory and mood improvements in adults with mild age-related memory loss. 

Curcumin is a compound derived from turmeric has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties with previous studies indicating lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in Indian adults consuming curcumin daily as part of their normal diet. 

This current study, by Small et al. indicates that previous studies investigating the effect of curcumin on Alzheimer’s have not looked at in vivo effects of curcumin on amyloid plaques and tau tangles, hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.  The team developed a technique, FDDNP-PET, which provide FDDNP binding scores and which have been shown to be significantly higher for selected brain areas in Alzheimer’s patients when compared to patients with healthy aging and mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Lower cognitive scores have also been shown to be “associated with higher FDDNP binding in brain regions that control thinking and memory”. In addition, Small et al. wanted to investigate the effects of a form of curcumin known to have higher bioavailability than often used. 

Small et al. recruited 40 adults aged 50- 90 years who at baseline had cognitive performance scores consistent with normal ageing or who had mild neurocognitive disorder (MCI) but not dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  The study randomly assigned participants to either receive Theracurmin, containing 90 mg curcumin (21 subjects), or a placebo (19 subjects) twice daily for a period of 18 months. The researchers indicate that the treatment groups “did not differ significantly in baseline demographic variables, age, sex ratio, proportion with MCI” or in assessment scores though they did differ in educational achievement. Small et al. note that at baseline, the free curcumin levels for all participants was 0 ng/ml while after 18 months the mean level was 26.2 ng/ml (ranging from 3.0 to 67.3 ng/ml) for the curcumin group and 0.1 ng/ml (range 0 to 1.2 ng/ml) for the placebo group. The researchers state this shows the participants adherence to the supplementation regime. 

In cognitive tests, the curcumin group showed a statistically significant change in primary verbal memory scores (change of 20.3) while the placebo group showed no significant change (change of 1.9). In primary visual memory tests, the curcumin group again saw a significant improvement while the placebo group showed no such improvement although the change was not statistically significant. For attention measure tests and depression scores the curcumin group showed significant improvements for both while the placebo group showed no significant change and no change respectively. Following FDDNP-PET scans of participants after 18 months, Small et al report that in the amygdala, a region of the brain shown to play a key role in processing of emotions, binding levels significantly decreased in the curcumin group while there was no significant change the placebo. In the hypothalamic region, the curcumin group showed no significant change while in the placebo group a significant increase in binding values was seen. 

In discussion, Small et al. reiterate that their findings show that “daily oral ingestion of a bioavailable and safe form of curcumin improves memory performance over an 18-month period in middle-aged and older non-demented adults”. They also state that such supplementation may lead to “less neuropathological accumulation in the amygdala and hypothalamus”. The researchers note that the small sample size and the fact that the FDDNP-PET scan results should be considered “exploratory” means that results should be interpreted with caution. They do however note that the study has several strengths despite these limitations including the long study period and the focus on non-demented adults. In conclusion, Small et al. state that their results “warrant further study in similar populations to confirm the cognitive benefits of curcumin and elucidate the underlying mechanisms responsible for such effects”.

RSSL can analyse for curcumin in turmeric. To find out more please contact Customer Services telephone 0118 918 4076 or e-mail enquiries@rssl.com

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