Curcumin comes from turmeric (Curcuma longa), the spice that gives curry its deep yellow color. Curcumin is the most biologically active phytochemical compound of turmeric. A member of the ginger family, turmeric is ubiquitous in India, where it has long been used for its flavor and for food preservation, because it contains potent antioxidants that inhibit spoilage.
Dietary levels of curcumin are higher in India than anywhere else in the world, and are exponentially higher than in the U.S., where the spice is hardly used at all. Curcumin has long been used in Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) and Chinese medicine to reduce inflammation naturally.
Research has pointed to a link between inflammation and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at UCLA conducted a clinical study to find out if curcumin, because of its reputed anti-inflammatory properties, could provide “anti-Alzheimer’s” benefits.
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In this study, middle-aged and older mice were fed either a standard diet or the same diet with small or large doses of curcumin for six months. All the mice received injections of amyloid (a protein in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s) to mimic the disease. Compared to the mice on the standard diet, the curcumin-fed animals scored much higher on maze-based memory tests and exhibited no symptoms of Alzheimer’s. At the end of the study, biopsies showed that the mice on the curcumin diets had not only dramatic reductions in amyloid and other markers of inflammation in the brain, but also substantially less oxidative damage.(1)
Research conducted at Cornell University(2) examined gastrointestinal cells exposed to bile acids or phorbol esters. These compounds stimulated COX-2 production of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. Dose dependent treatments of curcumin were then administered to the cells. The researchers reported curcumin inhibited both the bile acid and phorbol esters from inducing COX-2 production of prostaglandins. Most intriguing was the discovery that curcumin also directly inhibited the enzymatic activity of COX-2.
1. Lim GP, Chu T, Yang F, Beech W, Frautschy SA, Cole GM. The Curry Spice Curcumin Reduces Oxidative Damage and Amyloid Pathology in an Alzheimer Transgenic Mouse. Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, November 15, 2001.
2. Zhang F, Altorki NK, Mestre JR, Subbaramaiah K, Dannenberg AJ. Curcumin inhibits cyclooxygenase-2 transcription in bile acid- and phorbol ester-treated human gastrointestinal epithelial cells. Carcinogenesis 1999 Mar;20(3):445-51