Curry Component "Curcumin" Controls Alzheimer's Disease Markers

May 6, 2005

Curry is enjoyed as a spicy meal in India and other countries. The yellow color of curry is due to the addition of the pigment curcumin. For centuries, curcumin has been used in traditional Indian medicine to treat inflammation and help wound healing.

Recent experiments show that curcumin is an "antioxidant." Antioxidants are used by the body to fight free radicals. Free radicals are produced when cells convert oxygen to energy. A few free radicals are not dangerous, but too many can damage cell membranes, proteins and DNA. This may kill the cell. One theory proposes that too many free radicals are responsible for the problems associated with aging.

Image courtesy of the NIA
Illustrator: Lydia Kibiuk

Elderly people in India appear to have low rates of Alzheimer's disease. Could eating food high in curcumin reduce the risk of this brain disorder? Could curcumin prevent Alzheimer's disease or even treat people who suffer from this disease?

The brains of people with Alzheimer's disease have unusual plaques and tangles. The plaques are mainly composed of a protein called beta amyloid. These tangles and plaques interfere with neuronal functions, such as communicating with each other and sending messages to other parts of the body. In a paper published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry (February, 2005), researchers showed that curcumin can prevent the formation of amyloid fibers in test tube experiments. They went further in their investigation by raising mice on a diet that included curcumin. Mice that ate the curcumin diet had fewer beta amyloid proteins in their brain than mice fed a normal diet. Even when the curcumin diet started when the mice were old, beta amyloid protein was reduced.

These results suggest that curcumin may decrease the risk for Alzheimer's disease and may be used to treat people who already have symptoms of the disease. Further research is necessary to determine the proper dose of curcumin and to see if curcumin prevents and reverses the cognitive problems associated with Alzheimer's disease.


  1. Yang, F., Lim, G.P., Begum, A.N., Ubeda, O.J., Simmons, M.R., Ambegaokar, S.S., Chen, P.P., Kayed, R., Glabe, C.G., Frautschy, S.A. and Cole, G.M., Curcumin inhibits formation of amyloid beta oligomers and fibrils, binds plaques, and reduces amyloid in vivo. J. Biol. Chem., 280:5892-5901, 2005.
  2. Lim, G.P., Chu, T., Yang, F., Beech, W., Frautschy, S.A. and Cole, G.M., The curry spice curcumin reduces oxidative damage and amyloid pathology in an Alzheimer transgenic mouse. J. Neurosci., 21:8370-8377, 2001.

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