How Turmeric Can Save the Aging Brain From Dementia and Premature Death

turmeric_saves_the_brain

By Sayer Ji

Contributing Writer for Wake Up World

A study published in Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry titled, “Dietary Curcumin Ameliorates Aging-Related Cerebrovascular Dysfunction through the AMPK/Uncoupling Protein 2 Pathway,”[i] reveals the primary polyphenol in turmeric known as curcumin (which gives it its golden hue) may provide what the study authors describe as an “effective therapeutic strategy to reverse age-related cerebrovascular dysfunction.”

Age-related cerebrovascular dysfunction is occurring on an epidemic scale in Western countries and include, “stroke, cerebral amyloid angiopathy, cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases.” Presently, very few if any conventional medical interventions are capable of providing effective solutions, and none have been found to reverse underlying pathologies in conditions whose trajectories are generally characterized as ‘incurable.’ All the more reason why the new study holds so much promise in providing an evidence-based natural solution that is safe, effective, affordable and easily accessible as a familiar food ingredient.

The study was conducted using a rat model. 24-month old male rodents were given dietary curcumin (.2%), with young control rodents 6-months of age. After one month of curcumin treatment, the researchers observed a ‘remarkable restoration’ of the impaired cerebrovascular endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation (i.e. the ability of the blood vessels to naturally relax) in the aging rats. They observed three distinct ‘molecular’ ameliorative effects:

  • Curcumin promoted eNOS and AMPK phosphylation: Increasing nitric oxide (NO) bioavailability enables the inner lining of the blood vessels (endothelium) to fully dilate, reducing cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension and associated damage to the arteries. Increased 5′-AMP activated protein kinase (AMPK) activity is also associated with improved age-related endothelial function.
  • Curcumin upregulated mitochondrial uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2): UCP2 plays an important role in mitochondrial homeostasis and its optimal functionaing has been associated with increased lifespan.
  • Curcumin reduced Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) production: ROS reduction is associated with decreased oxidative stress and related cellular damage.

The authors summarized their findings as follows:

In summary, our findings provide the first evidence that chronic pharmacological AMPK/UCP2 pathway activation by curcumin treatment may be an effective therapeutic strategy to reverse age-related cerebrovascular dysfunction. Curcumin administration may represent a promising lifestyle intervention for preventing age-related cerebrovascular disturbances.

A Massive Body of Research On Curcumin’s Brain Protective Properties

GreenMedInfo.com houses a database of 1597 abstracts from the National Library of Medicine on the health value of turmeric and/or curcumin in over 600 health conditions. View them all here: turmeric health benefits. Of the 177 distinct beneficial physiological actions documented within this literature, 114 of them concern the spice’s neuroprotective properties. View them here: neuroprotective properties of turmeric.

While this latest study, and most of the research on our turmeric database is preclinical, there are reports of turmeric causing significant improvements in cerebrovascular dysfunction diseases such as Alzheimer’s. In a previous article titled, “Turmeric Produces ‘Remarkable’ Rocvery iin Alzheimer’s Patients,” we reported on the ability of turmeric to produce dramatic improvement in patients suffering from behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.

As we discussed in the article, other documented Anti-Alzheimer’s disease mechanisms of turmeric include:

  • Anti-inflammatory: Curcumin has been found to play a protective role against β-amyloid protein associated inflammation.[11]
  • Anti-oxidative: Curcumin may reduce damage via antioxidant properties.[12]
  • Anti-cytotoxic: Curcumin appears to protect against the cell-damaging effects of β-amyloid proteins.[13] [14]
  • Anti-amyloidogenic: Turmeric contains a variety of compounds (curcumin, tetrahydrocurcumin, demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin) which may strike to the root pathological cause of Alzheimer’s disease by preventing β-amyloid protein formation.[15] [16] [17] [18]
  • Neurorestorative: Curcuminoids appear to rescue long-term potentiation (an indication of functional memory) impaired by amyloid peptide, and may reverse physiological damage by restoring distorted neurites and disrupting existing plaques. [19] [20]
  • Metal-chelating properties: Curcumin has a higher binding affinity for iron and copper rather than zinc, which may contribute to its protective effect in Alzheimer’s disease, as iron-mediated damage may play a pathological role.[21] [22]

Turmeric, of course, is not the only natural substance that has been proven to have value in neurodegenerative conditions. For those looking for additional research on food and spice-based natural alternatives that are evidence based, here are additional substances that may be of value:

  • Coconut Oil: This remarkable substance contains approximately 66% medium chain triglycerides by weight, and is capable of improving symptoms of cognitive decline in those suffering from dementia by increasing brain-boosing ketone bodies, and perhaps more remarkably,within only one dose, and within only two hours.[23]
  • Cocoa: A 2009 study found that cocoa procyanidins may protect against lipid peroxidation associated with neuronal cell death in a manner relevant to Alzheimer’s disease.[24]
  • Sage: A 2003 study found that sage extract has therapeutic value in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.[25]
  • Folic acid: While most of the positive research on this B vitamin has been performed on the semi-synthetic version, which may have unintended, adverse health effects, the ideal source for this B vitamin is foliage, i.e. green leafy vegetables, as only foods provide folate. Also, the entire B group of vitamins, especially including the homocysteine-modulating B6 and B12,[26] may have the most value in Alzheimer’s disease prevention and treatment.
  • Resveratrol: this compound is mainly found in the Western diet in grapes, wine, peanuts and chocolate. There are 16 articles on our website indicating it has anti-Alzheimer’s properties.[27]
  • Gingko biloba: is one of the few herbs proven to be at least as effective as the pharmaceutical drug Aricept in treating and improving symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.[28] [29]
  • Melissa offinalis: this herb, also known as Lemon Balm, has been found to have therapeutic effect in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.[30]
  • Saffron: this herb compares favorably to the drug donepezil in the treatment of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease.[31]

Updated November 2014

Article References

[i] Yunfei Pu, Hexuan Zhang, Peijian Wang, Yu Zhao, Qiang Li, Xing Wei, Yuanting Cui, Jing Sun, Qianhui Shang, Daoyan Liu, Zhiming Zhu. Dietary curcumin ameliorates aging-related cerebrovascular dysfunction through the AMPK/uncoupling protein 2 pathway. Cell Physiol Biochem. 2013 ;32(5):1167-77. Epub 2013 Nov 11. PMID: 24335167

Further articles by Sayer Ji:

About the author:

Sayer-JiSayer Ji is an author, researcher, lecturer, an advisory board member of the National Health Federation, and the founder of GreenMedInfo.com, the world an open access, evidence-based resource supporting natural and integrative modalities. His writings have been published and referenced widely in print and online, including Truthout, Mercola.com, The Journal of Gluten Sensitivity, New York Times and The Well Being Journal.

In 1995 Sayer received a BA degree in Philosophy from Rutgers University, where he studied under the American philosopher Dr. Bruce W. Wilshire, with a focus on the philosophy of science. In 1996, following residency at the Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York, he embarked on a 5 year journey of service as a counsellor-teacher and wilderness therapy specialist for various organizations that serve underprivileged and/or adjudicated populations. Since 2003, Sayer has served as a patient advocate and an educator and consultant for the natural health and wellness field.


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  • Donna

    Do you know if it’s safe to take when you are in estrodial and progesterone?

  • Maria

    Turmeric mixed with black pepper and olive oil prevents cancer better than many other natural or chemical products.

  • Mikael George

    The spice ; Turmeric in very in oxalates (91%), which appeared to be the primary cause of the greater urinary
    oxalate
    excretion/oxalate absorption from turmeric. The consumption of
    supplemental doses of turmeric, can significantly increase urinary
    oxalate levels, thereby increasing risk of kidney stone formation in
    susceptible individuals.and also damages your kidneys .If you have
    kidney stones , Gallbladder stones or kidney disease do not take
    turmeric . Tumeric is over hype, and a multi-billion dollars supplement
    industry promoting it just like big pharma .

  • Andrea Bell

    Hi Sayer,

    I do agree with your point that turmeric powder is God gifted spice. It is the rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family. Turmeric is known as the planet’s powerful herb for fighting and is used potentially for reversing many diseases. As it contains many healthy nutrients such as protein, dietary fiber, niacin, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Vitamin K, turmeric is used to treat many health problems. Turmeric is used in many Indian curries; this spice has no calories and zero cholesterol. It is also rich in iron, potassium, magnesium, and Vitamin B.

    Turmeric is also beneficial for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. You can find more about it at
    http://www.braintest.com/knowledge/