Monthly Archives: January 2018

Turmeric: Boosting Memory & Mood

Curcumin, the most active substance of turmeric, is commonly used in Indian cooking as a primary spice—and often used in mustard, butter, and cheese. Findings of a new study have revealed that it may also help improve memory and mood.

In a study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry last week, Gary Small, from UCLA’s Longevity Center, and fellow researchers found that giving 90 milligrams of curcumin daily improved the memory and mood of older adults with mild memory complaints.

The subjects were given standardised cognitive assessments at the start of the study, and at six month intervals. The curcumin levels in the blood were monitored at the start of the study and after 18 months. Thirty of the volunteers underwent positron emission tomography, or PET scans, to determine the levels of amyloid and tau in their brains at the start of the study and after 18 months.

The findings revealed that people who took curcumin experienced significant improvements in their memory and attention abilities, while the subjects who received placebo did not, Small said. People taking curcumin improved by 28 per cent over the 18 months in their memory tests. There were mild improvements in mood for people taking curcumin. The PET scans of their brain showed significantly less amyloid and tau signals in the amygdala and hypothalamus than those who took placebos. The amygdala and hypothalamus are regions of the brain that control several memory and emotional functions.

The researchers also found less signals of tau and amyloid proteins in those who were given curcumin supplements: proteins linked to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. “Exactly how curcumin may exert cognitive and mood effects is not certain, but several potential mechanisms could explain our findings,” researchers wrote in their study. “Curcumin reduces inflammation, and heightened brain inflammation has been linked to both Alzheimer disease and major depression.”

Countries such as India, where people eat curcumin at levels of about 100 mg to 200 mg a day over long periods of time, have low prevalence of cancer. Researchers suspect this may have something to do with the health benefits of turmeric.

Earlier studies have shown other possible beneficial effects of consuming curcumin on health. In a 2001 study involving patients with precancerous changes, investigators found that curcumin could stop precancerous changes in organs from developing into cancer. “Our results also suggest a biologic effect of curcumin in the chemoprevention of cancer,” the researchers wrote in their study.

Lab tests also showed that turmeric extract that contains curcumin may help stabilize colorectal cancer that did not benefit from other forms of treatment. Other preliminary lab studies also suggest that turmeric may provide protection against high cholesterol, colitis, stomach ulcers, diabetes, depression, and viral infections.

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The Benefits of Mindful Eating

Recent studies indicate that meal timing and frequency may impact cardiovascular health, and disease risks. While eating patterns vary from person to person, research indicates that effective management of cardiometabolic health should focus on ‘intentional eating’–paying attention to standardize eating times, meal sizes, and food content.

One of the primary critical factors in evaluating the effect of meal frequency and timing on cardiovascular health was what constituted a meal that potentially impacted metabolism. Data shows that distributing calories over a defined period of the day, coupled with maintaining a consistent overnight fast period, could ultimately yield positive benefits surrounding cardiometabolic health–in addition to eating a larger portion of one’s daily caloric intake earlier in the day.

Skipping meals and snacking, which have become increasingly prevalent, have various effects on cardiometabolic health markers: namely obesity, lipid profile, insulin resistance, and blood pressure. Because irregular eating patterns do not lead to a healthy cardiometabolic profile, intentional eating–with mindful attention to the timing and frequency of eating occasions–will lead to a healthier lifestyle. Most importantly, planning each meal with a variety of healthy foods, and timing meals, can help manage hunger, achieve desired portion control, and improve nutrition quality.

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Parkinson’s Disease: Origins in the Gut?

Within the last few weeks, researchers at Mount Sinai have found strong correlations between Parkinson’s disease and the gut, confirming earlier studies that indicate the association.

A new genetic study demonstrates that several variants in the LRRK2 gene raise or lower risk not only for Parkinson’s, but also for Crohn’s disease: an inflammatory bowel disorder. The researchers identified a new functional risk variant, N2081D, which increases LRRK2’s kinase activity, in addition to a protective variant that inactivates lRRK2. The study’s researchers confirm that these findings may provide insight into underlying disease mechanisms, and point toward improved therapeutic approaches: LRRK2 inhibits being developed for Parkinson’s may help people with Crohn’s, while anti-inflammatory approaches could likewise benefit Parkinson’s patients.

Moreover, an earlier study published in Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology, investigates the role of the vagus nerve in Parkinson’s disease–suggesting that a resection of the nerve might stop or delay the spreading of Parkinson’s disease, and providing further concrete evidence of the link between Parkinson’s and the gut.

Historically cited as the pneumogastric nerve, the theory suggests that the vagus nerve might serve as the channel for transporting the protein alpha-synuclein from stomach to brain, where it forms ‘telltale clumps in Parkinson’s sufferers.’

If accurate, the hypothesis points to a clear origin of the neurodegenerative brain disorder: the gut. Moreover, it would explain and confirm the critical importance of the enigmatic protein, whose exact role in Parkinson’s has previously not been well understood.  Perhaps most importantly, it would point to a potential way to block the development and progression of Parkinson’s: a surgical procedure known as a vagotomy, which is generally used in people with severe gastric ulcers, and involves cutting the vagus nerve in order to completely sever the ‘pathway from gut to brain.’

The objective of the published research was to examine whether vagotomy decreases the risk of Parkinson’s. Using comprehensive data from nationwide Swedish registers, the authors conducted a matched-cohort study of 9,430 vagotomized patients and 377,200 non-vagotomized patients. The researchers were aiming to find if the process of a vagotomy—in addition to a treatment for peptic ulcers—might lower the risk of Parkinson’s by blocking the route of alpha-synuclein to the brain.

After analyzing the data and assessing the subset of patients who received the most drastic version of the procedure, a truncal vagotomy—which removes the vagus nerve from contact with the liver, stomach, pancreas, gall bladder, small intestine, and proximal colon—they found that Parkinson’s disease was 22% less common than it was amongst people in the non-vagotomized comparison group.

While this study delivers clear epidemiological evidence to support the theory that Parkinson’s originates in the gut, previous studies further indicate that this may indeed be true. Alpha-synuclein protein clumps have been detected in the guts of patients with very early-onset Parkinson’s; in mice who had alpha-synuclein from the brains of human Parkinson’s patients implanted in their intestinal walls, researchers have seen movement of those proteins in the vagus nerve.

Our upcoming 26th Annual Spring Congress will focus on brain diseases and disorders, including the prevalence of Parkinson’s disease and related conditions. Our Module IV: Gastroenterology will also spotlight the gut-brain axis, and discuss the strong correlation between the gut microbiome and brain conditions.

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