The British are investigating the possible connection between curcumin and treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Anything to this? -- Richard Bray

The Brits aren't alone in this effort. Researchers here in the United States have been pursuing clues to the effects of curcumin, a compound found in the spice turmeric that is responsible for the yellow color of Indian curry and American mustard. Studies show that elderly villagers in India appear to have the lowest rate of Alzheimer's disease in the world. Researchers speculate that curcumin, which has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties might play a role, because Indians eat turmeric with almost every meal.

In a recent study at the University of California at Los Angeles, scientists fed curcumin to rats prone to accumulate beta-amyloid plaque in their brains -- the abnormality associated with Alzheimer's disease in humans. Curcumin blocked the accumulation of beta-amaloid plaque and also appeared to reduce inflammation related to Alzheimer's disease in neurologic tissue. The rats fed curcumin also performed better on memory tests than rats on normal diets.

The UCLA study isn't the only one that suggests that curcumin might prove helpful for treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's. Researchers at the University of Illinois have also found that it helps prevent plaque formation. And preliminary studies at Vanderbilt University suggest that curcumin may block the progression of multiple sclerosis. Mice with an MS-like illness showed little or no signs of disease after being injected with curcumin, while their untreated counter parts went on to severe paralysis. New research from Japan also suggests that turmeric may help prevent colitis, an inflammation of the colon.

My friend Paul Schulick of New Chapter, Inc., who brought me up to speed on the latest curcumin research, tells me that only low dose curcumin reduced plaque in the Alzheimer's disease studies. This is good news since it suggests that curcumin is most effective at doses well below pharmaceutical strength. Schulick also emphasizes that turmeric contains many other compounds besides curcumin and points out that people in India consume the whole spice not an isolated element. Turmeric appears to have significant anti-inflammatory and cancer-protective effects as well, so I think it is good to find ways to include it in our diets.

Dr. Andrew Weil

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