Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric root, has a long history of use in Chinese and Ayurvedic systems of healing. Recent research indicates that the spice may combat cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In fact, curcumin demonstrates more than a half dozen mechanisms of action that inhibit the development of cancer and tumor growth, and that prevent or slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases. Scientists have found that these protective effects even extend to help prevent stroke and neural damage caused by chronic alcohol abuse or head trauma.
How it Works
One of the primary actions of curcumin is to counter chronic inflammation and oxidative damage, factors associated with an aging brain. In addition to showing an ability to reduce the release of cytokines and other pro-inflammatory chemicals, curcumin appears to bind to beta amyloid proteins to prevent the formation and accumulation of amyloid plaques that promote inflammation, trigger premature cell death and result in gradual cognitive decline.
Studies also show that curcumin also seems to “switch on” certain genes that signal the generation of new neural cells, most notably in the hippocampus, the region of the brain involved in memory formation and recall.
Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory action also deters the accumulation of alpha-synuclein, a protein found in the presynaptic terminals at nerve endings. While this protein is abundant in the brain, it becomes toxic if it aggregates, damages mitochondria and impairs muscle movement, symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. The complete function of this protein is still unclear, although it is thought to be involved in dopamine release, which can have an impact on the ability to start and stop movements. Curcumin protects against this decline by inhibiting the premature death of dopamine-producing cells of the substantia nigra, the area of the brain that produces neurotransmitters that regulate muscle movements and coordination.