Functioning as the command center of the nervous system, the human brain enables many complex processes; as such, maintaining a healthy, well-functioning brain is a critical element of overall health and one of the most important goals in longevity science. As the global population continues to age, the burden of neurological diseases will increase as will the relevance of brain health preservation. In this context, it is vital to understand the intricacies of the brain aging process which contributes to age-related vulnerabilities and is not uniform. It does, however, center around the “4M’s” of brain health – memory, mood, mobility, and mojo – otherwise known as the vital components of optimal brain health.
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.
A recent study indicates that a specific protein in human umbilical cord blood plasma has the potential to improve learning and memory in aging, older mice.
In 1972, research demonstrated that when pairs of rats were surgically attached, older rats had increased lifespan when sharing a bloodstream with young rats. This particular study spearheaded a scientific effort surrounding the understanding and consensus of aging: certain materials from younger bodies or organisms can often improve or rejuvenate older ones, when transplanted.
Further findings produced exciting research; scientists have previously shown that young blood can restore cell activity in the muscles and livers of aging mice, and that linking older mice to young when helped reverse heart muscle thickening.
Although many of the findings have not been successfully replicated, there is a unanimous agreement that—like humans—as mice and rats age, their bodies and behavior change on profoundly fundamental levels. Joe Castellano, a neuroscientist at Stanford University School of Medicine, saw that older mice tended to stop building nests, and became increasingly forgetful.
Castellano and his colleagues collectively hypothesized that young human blood might produce beneficial effects for aging mice; in a report published in the journal Nature, they state that they have located a protein in human umbilical cord blood that can improve both learning and memory in aging mice—a significant and exciting finding in the field of regenerative medicine.
The team collected plasma, the ‘watery part of blood,’ from people of different ages, in addition to plasma from human umbilical cords. They then injected human plasma from those different age groups, and from umbilical cord blood, into mice continuously over several weeks. The mice were aged 12 and 14 months, which is calculated to be approximately the mouse equivalent of being in late 50s or 60s.
When the mouse brains were dissected and the hippocampi were inspected, it was found that certain genes linked to the creation of new memories had been turned on in some of the mice. “So, we had a hint early on that one of these donor groups, specifically the [umbilical] cord plasma, might be having an effect on the brain itself,” Castellano says.
Castellano and his team then injected more aging mice with human plasma, and tested the animals’ ability to remember things. They found that after cord plasma treatment, mice escaped from a maze more rapidly; the performance in most areas was increased and improved. Similarly, mice treated with human umbilical cord performed better on memory tests.
A series of further experiments led Castellano and his colleagues to conclude that one specific protein—TIMP2—in human umbilical cord blood was responsible for the improvements. “The really exciting thing about this study, and previous studies that have come before it, is that we’ve sort of tapped into previously unappreciated potential of our blood — our plasma — and what it can do for reversing the harmful effects of aging on the brain,” says Castellano.
The research potentially hints at possible treatments and therapies that might ultimately work to prevent age-related illnesses from developing, including Alzheimer’s disease.