Curcumin's Cognitive Benefits Look Convincing

Richard S. Isaacson, MD


March 01, 2018

Latest Data on Curcumin

Hi. I am Dr Richard Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian in New York City, here on behalf of Medscape.

You may have heard the exciting news about curcumin and its potential for treating Alzheimer's disease. A recent study by Gary Small and colleagues,[1] published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, showed something really interesting. It was the first study that used a randomized trial design in a small group of 40 patients (aged 50 to 90) with mild memory complaints, who received either placebo or a specific type of curcumin with very small nanoparticles.

Why is this important? In the past, curcumin had trouble with absorption in a variety of supplements that were tried. For example, several years back, John Ringman and colleagues[2] published results in a group of patients with Alzheimer's disease, in which they found that curcumin was not effective for delaying or helping symptoms in any way. When they looked at the patients' blood, they found that the curcumin pills were not getting absorbed.

The philosophy behind this new nanoparticle version of curcumin (Theracumin®) is that it will lead to better absorption. When this trial was performed, not only did the patients who were randomized to the active form of curcumin have improved memory function at 18 months, but they actually had less amyloid in specific parts of their brain that correlated with Alzheimer's disease.

Practical Applications

What does this all mean? From a practical clinical perspective, this is a pretty exciting study. Curcumin is a very well-tolerated supplement overall. In my clinical practice, I have been recommending that patients who are interested in prevention or have even mild memory loss cook with curcumin, which is the active form of turmeric. Cooking with it may increase absorption, provide a little bit of fat in the meal, etc.

When it comes to the pills, I think it is exciting. While we do not know exactly what the right dose is or which patients it will work in, this preliminary evidence suggests that curcumin may play a role in the therapeutic paradigm of Alzheimer's disease.

Should curcumin be used for prevention? For treatment? I do not think that we know the answers yet, but hopefully further studies will occur that will clarify this.

When it comes to risk reduction, there are several reasons why curcumin may have benefit. Overall, it reduces inflammation when it has been studied in a variety of conditions, from cancer to arthritis. Maybe, if you can calm down the inflammatory pathways in the brain, you can press the brakes on amyloid deposition.

It could also work through antioxidant properties. I am not exactly sure, but regardless, we need more research studies to figure this out.

In summary, there is now a degree of evidence to suggest that curcumin, in this specific nanoparticle form, may play a role in both the risk reduction and potential therapeutic management of Alzheimer's disease.

For Medscape, I am Dr Richard Isaacson.


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