Turmeric is an ancient spice that has been used for centuries in Indian and Chinese medicine and cooking. Traditional usage of turmeric covers a very wide spectrum of concerns ranging from topical usage as a poultice for curbing localised inflammation through to taking the powder internally for the relief of stomach complaints, bladder infections and arthritis.
With the myriad of claimed benefits, turmeric has, over the last decade, been extensively studied and it is possibly the most researched herb in the world. Turmeric contains a group of powerful antioxidant compounds collectively termed curcumin and it is this compound that is responsible for turmeric’s remarkable properties, which include:
Anti-inflammatory: Many concerns are associated with inflammation in the body including heart disease, asthma, arthritis and allergies.
Antiseptic: Turmeric has been used for centuries to treat wounds.
Cholesterol lowering: Curcumin has been shown to help reduce total cholesterol levels and additionally help lower the bad cholesterol significantly.
Antioxidant: Turmeric displays very powerful antioxidant properties, helping to scavenge damaging free radicals more efficiently than vitamin C or E. It is this property that has resulted in turmeric often being labelled as the most important herb in the world because by protecting our genetic material, turmeric may help extend longevity.
Turmeric and its effects on the brain
Alzheimer’s disease was discovered in 1907 by a German medical researcher, Dr Alois Alzheimer, who described a unique and destructive pathology in his patients’ brains. Today Alzheimer’s disease is a ravaging illness that robs its victims not only of their health, but also of their relationships with family and friends. Worldwide, the disease has doubled over the last two decades and is expected to continue in the same way over the next few decades.
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease and the drugs currently used only address the symptoms and have limited effectiveness. Medical experts believe that any therapeutic intervention that could postpone the onset or progression of Alzheimer’s could dramatically reduce the number of cases of this disease over the next few decades.
There is probably not one specific cause for Alzheimer’s and dementia; instead it is likely that several factors are involved affecting each individual differently. We know that age is common denominator. Family history also plays an important role as we know that Alzheimer’s has a genetic link. Increasingly, studies point to inflammation within the brain as being the prime target for Alzheimer’s and other studies show that heavy metals such as lead and mercury from the foods we ingest and from environmental toxins may also be responsible.
Alzheimer’s is characterised by two distinct abnormalities in the brain: amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.
Amyloid plaques are fragments of protein tissue in between nerve cells which, in a healthy brain, are broken down and eliminated. In Alzheimer’s, these accumulate to form hard, insoluble plaques which hinder the function of the nerve cells in the brain.
Neurofibrillary tangles are twisted fibres found inside the brain’s cells. These tangles consist primarily of a protein which forms a tube-like structure that transports nutrients and other vital substances to all the nerve cells. In Alzheimer’s, this tube-like structure collapses resulting in a malnourished brain.
A growing body of evidence suggests that curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, may offer significant benefits with specific reference to Alzheimer’s and dementia. Curcumin displays powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and studies indicate that it can help prevent the formation of plaque and may protect the tube-like structures in the brain. Several studies carried out by some of the leading research-led institutions all concluded that curcumin is a promising agent for the prevention of Alzheimer’s and possibly other brain disorders including Parkinson’s disease.
Having ascertained that curcumin supplementation may protect our brain tissues, we are faced with a deluge of turmeric supplements containing curcumin. Most turmeric supplements contain five percent curcumin. Aim for a supplement which contains 95 percent curcumin since this is the sort of strength that is required to have a therapeutic effect.
What is the best form of turmeric?
Turmeric is poorly absorbed by the body. Turmeric is quickly degraded by the stomach acids and very little gets into the bloodstream. Research has shown that turmeric is not water soluble but dissolves efficiently in fats. So look for a supplement that either coats the turmeric in an enteric coating, which is expensive, or use one that contains some form of oil to ensure the greatest availability to the body.
The supplement that I tend to recommend is Super Bio-Curcumin by Life Extension, a supplement that contains a patent pending extract of turmeric containing 95% curcuminoids in a base containing oils derived from turmeric root for greater absorption. This specific patent pending extract has been shown to absorb seven times better than conventional curcumin supplements and remains in the bloodstream twice as long, ensuring maximum protection.
Pre-clinical studies have already shown great promise and I believe that more clinical trial results will be published vindicating curcumin’s great potential in helping to prevent dementia.