More than one million adults in the U.S. are diagnosed with a chronic brain disease or disorder each year. This includes Alzheimer’s, stroke and Parkinson’s, which affect aging adults the most. Adhering to a healthy lifestyle and a diet abundant in “brain foods” like flavonoid-rich berries and antioxidants from herbs and green tea, can go a long way to keep your grey matter in good working order. Score big for engaging in mental exercises, like reading and crossword puzzles, too. But scientists now believe that an aromatic compound in turmeric root may hold the key to the recovery of brain function through the generation of new stem cells.
Stem cells are the cells that come to the rescue when damage occurs. They are unique in that they are capable of dividing to form daughter cells, which then become new stem cells or they become blood cells or other specialized cells utilized by the heart, muscle and brain. According to a study published in Stem Cell Research & Therapy, a compound found in turmeric root called ar-turmerone (aromatic turmerone) stimulates the proliferation of neural stem cells. How this occurs exactly is not yet clearly understood, but the authors of another study published in the same journal two months later suspect the compound acts on certain factors involved in the NF-κB, JNK, and p38 MAPK signaling pathways that leads to neural stem cell growth and survival. More research is needed, but the study authors are hopeful that this compound may soon become a viable therapy for recovery from ischemic stroke and Parkinson’s disease.
Another activity of ar-turmerone that benefits the brain in terms of recovery as well as prevention of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disease is the suppression of proinflammatory chemicals, namely iNOS, COX-2, TNF-α, IL-6 and a few others. Research also shows that ar-turmerone protects hippocampal cells against neuronal toxicity that often occurs with neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease.