Indian curry could prevent Alzheimer's disease, dementia
Curcumin, a component of turmeric, appears to prevent the spread of amyloid protein plaques, which are suspected to cause dementia, Murali Doraiswamy of Duke University, North Carolina, said.
Amyloid plaques, along with tangles of nerve fibres, are suspected to contribute to the degradation of the wiring in brain cells, eventually leading to symptoms of dementia.
Doraiswamy, at the ongoing annual meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Liverpool, said there was evidence that people who eat a curry meal two or three times a week had a lower risk of dementia, and added that researchers were testing the impact of higher doses to see if they could maximise the effect.
Doraiswamy told the meeting: "There is very solid evidence that curcumin binds to plaques, and basic research on animals engineered to produce human amyloid plaques has shown benefits."
"You can modify a mouse so that at about 12 months its brain is riddled with plaques. If you feed this rat a curcumin-rich diet it dissolves these plaques. The same diet prevented younger mice from forming new plaques.
"The next step is to test curcumin on human amyloid plaque formation using newer brain scans and there are plans for that," he said.
Doraiswamy said a clinical trial was underway at the University of California, Los Angeles, to test curcumin's effects in Alzheimer's patients, the BBC reported from the meeting.
He stressed that eating a curry could not counter-balance the increased risk of dementia associated with a poor diet, but he said: "If you have a good diet and take plenty of exercise, eating curry regularly could help prevent dementia."
Doraiswamy predicted it might be possible to develop a curry pill which had the same therapeutic effect.
Susanne Sorensen, of the Alzheimer's Society, said: "Indian communities that regularly eat curcumin have a surprisingly low incidence of Alzheimer's disease but we don't yet know why.
"Alzheimer's Society is keen to explore the potential benefits of curcumin in protecting the brain and we are conducting our own research into this area.
"A cheap, accessible and safe treatment could transform the quality of life of thousands of people with the condition."