The role of nutrition in the development of mood disorders has recently become a central focus of clinical research. In recent years, public awareness of the intimate relationship between the brain and mental wellbeing has increasingly grown. The high metabolic and nutrient demands of the brain — which consumes 20% of a person’s daily caloric intake — suggest a connection between dietary choices and cognitive function, sparking a multitude of studies seeking to determine the specific connections of nutrients and mood disorders.
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.