The Spice That Fights Alzheimer’s– Curcumin

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Curcumin is the spice that gives curry its yellow color. It is also the spice that can help to keep your brain safe from dementia, new studies show.

Curcumin appears to interfere with the formation of amyloid proteins, the same amyloid proteins which many scientists believe cause the tangles in your brain found in Alzheimer’s patients.

Curcumin, Tumeric and Curry -What’s the Difference?

Curcumin has been a part of the diets of the Asian continent and in particular Indian culture for thousands of years.  Tumeric is a plant whose scientific name, to make matters more confusing is “curcuma longa”.  Inside this plant, the active ingredient of “curcumin” can be isolated after drying out the plant, pounding it, and sifting out the curcumin. The root of each plant might yield only about 2.5% curcumin.   Only curcumin has active biological properties which have been proved beneficial to your health.

Once it reaches the spice rack, “tumeric” and curcumin are essentially the same, and can be used interchangeably, since “tumeric” and “curcumin” are both the condensed and concentrated yellow compound which has been harvested from that tiny 2.5% bit of the plant.

If you are at the health store, and not the grocery store, on the other hand, you would look for “curcumin” supplements. Again, the reason is that tumeric would only refer to the cooking spice and would not typically be used in the supplement industry.

Curry is a whole different matter as a spice. Curry actually is not one spice but a mixture of spices.  Moreover, different curries have different mixtures.  However, all curries include curcumin/tumeric as an ingredient –which gives it a hint of yellow in its color — as well as coriander, fenugreek, cumin and hot peppers.  Some varieties of curry also include cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic, ginger, fennel seed, caraway, clove, green and/pr black cardamon, mustard seed and long pepper and black pepper as well as the leaf of the Murraya koenigii or Bergera koenigii (sometime called the “curry tree).

In my spice rack, I have two types of curry, “curry balti” and a spice simply called “curry” which have vastly different flavors.

Curcumin Disrupts Processes That Trigger Alzheimer’s Disease

The scientific interest in curcumin began in 1949 when two scientists from Germany, E. Schraufstatter and H. Bernt, discovered that curcumin has anti-bacterial properties. Specifically, curcumin kills four types of bacteria — staphylococcus aureus, salmonella paratyphi, trichophyton gypseum and mycobacterium tuberculosis.  You may recognize these bacteria as the germs which cause of staph infections, salmonella food poisonings and tuberculosis.

Since 1949, other groups of scientists have discovered that curcumin has anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammation and anti-cholesterol properties.  We cover these specific properties of curcumin in other articles.

But as for your brain, the exciting news is that curcumin has also drawn the interest of scientists for its anti-dementia properties.

Curcumin appears to disrupt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by binding to the harmful protein that cause plaque and tangles in the brain. If you could peer inside the brain of an Alzheimer’s sufferer, what you would see is that the inner walls of the vessels of the brain have plaque. You would also see that the brain nerve cells (neurons) have tangles, literally crossed wires.  These plaque formations and crossed wires are always present in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.  Scientists have isolated “amyloid proteins” as a key protein that triggers the formation of plaque and tangles.

Several different studies from universities around the world have now confirmed that curcumin acts to disrupt the ability of these amyloid proteins from binding to brain cells. In 2005 , a team of scientists from the University of California at Los Angeles( UCLA), Department of Medicine, gave curcumin to aged rats which had Alzheimer’s. The injection of curcumin acted to prevent the ability of amyloid protein to bind together and form plaques. As you will discover in other articles on this site, other drugs also inhibit amyloid protein aggregation, notably ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen. But curcumin helped to prevent binding even better than these drugs.

The Problem Your Body Has Absorbing Curcumin and the Solution

Before you decide to pour a barrel of curcumin down your throat, there is a catch to the story of curcumin.  Unfortunately, curcumin has a very low absorption rate. Only a tiny fraction of the curcumin you eat ever makes it into your blood stream.  This is because as soon as you eat it and curcumin makes it to your intestines, your gut resists its absorption so it is metabolized and eliminated from your body in your stool, As healthful as curcumin is, it does your body no good if it can’t be absorbed.

But, thankfully, there is a solution. Scientists discovered that adding various compounds to your diet when you eat curcumin, can dramatically increase curcumin’s absorption. The most effective of these absorption boosters is a compound called “piperine”.

Piperine is the compound that gives black pepper its punch. Scientists, experimenting with curcumin, have found that giving people curcumin in combination with piperine, increases the amount of curcumin absorbed in your body by 2000%. This was the finding in 1998 of scientists from St. John’s Medical College in India. This research team gave people 2 grams of curcumin. They then tested the amount of curcumin in the blood of the volunteers 2 hours later and found that the levels of curcumin were undetectable.  Then, the researchers gave the volunteers the same 2 grams of curcumin, only this time, they also added 20 grams of piperine.  After taking this combo, the blood levels of curcumin in the volunteers increased 2000%.

Put That Science Into Practice with These Recipes

I add curcuin to my daily diet in eggs. Here is my recipe

  1. In a pan, caramelize 1 diced yellow onion and 1 half of a red bell pepper.
  2. Separately whip one egg and an egg yolk per person.
  3. Add a teaspoon of curcumin to the egg mix
  4. Add a teaspoon of black pepper
  5. Once scrambled, pour the eggs over the onion and bell pepper mix evenly. The end result looks like a pizza.
  6. Sprinkle curry (note not curcumin this time) on top of the “pizza” and more black pepper to suit your  taste.

Eggs Curcumin Skillet 0451

This is what the eggs look like before you add a dash of curry and black pepper to taste on top.

Onions and Red Bell peppers 0435

Here are the onions and red bell peppers on medium heat in extra virgin olive oil.

Scientific Sources:

“Discovery of Curcumin, a Component of the Golden Spice, and Its Miraculous Biological Activities” 2013 University of Texas MD Andersen Cancer Center, Houston Texas, Subash C. Gupta, et al.

“Curcumin inhibits formation of amyloid beta oligomers and fibrils, binds plaques, and reduces amyloid in vivo.”; 2005, Department of Medicine, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA  Lang, et al.

“Antibacterial action of curcumin and related compounds”. Nature Journal; 1949, Schraufstatter E. and Bernt H.

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