Curcumin may improve memory and attention in some

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A small double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that daily consumption of a certain form of curcumin – the substance that gives Indian curry its bright colour – improved memory and attention in people with mild, age-related memory loss, according to the results of a study conducted by University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers.

The research examined the effects of an easily absorbed curcumin supplement on memory performance in people without dementia, as well as curcumin’s potential impact on the microscopic plaques and tangles in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Found in turmeric, curcumin has previously been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in lab studies. It also has been suggested as a possible reason that senior citizens in India, where curcumin is a dietary staple, have a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and better cognitive performance.

“Exactly how curcumin exerts its effects is not certain, but it may be due to its ability to reduce brain inflammation, which has been linked to both Alzheimer’s disease and major depression,” said Dr Gary Small, director of geriatric psychiatry at UCLA’s Longevity Centre and of the geriatric psychiatry division at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behaviour at UCLA, and the study’s first author.

The double-blind, placebo-controlled study involved 40 adults between the ages of 50 and 90 years who had mild memory complaints. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or 90 milligrams of curcumin twice daily for 18 months.

All 40 subjects received standardised cognitive assessments at the start of the study and at six-month intervals, and monitoring of curcumin levels in their blood at the start of the study and after 18 months. Thirty of the volunteers underwent positron emission tomography, or PET scans, to determine the levels of amyloid and tau in their brains at the start of the study and after 18 months.

The people who took curcumin experienced significant improvements in their memory and attention abilities, while the subjects who received placebo did not, Small said. In memory tests, the people taking curcumin improved by 28 percent over the 18 months. Those taking curcumin also had mild improvements in mood, and their brain PET scans showed significantly less amyloid and tau signals in the amygdala and hypothalamus than those who took placebos.

The amygdala and hypothalamus are regions of the brain that control several memory and emotional functions.

Four people taking curcumin, and two taking placebos, experienced mild side effects such as abdominal pain and nausea.

The researchers plan to conduct a follow-up study with a larger number of people. That study will include some people with mild depression so the scientists can explore whether curcumin also has antidepressant effects. The larger sample also would allow them to analyse whether curcumin’s memory-enhancing effects vary according to people’s genetic risk for Alzheimer’s, their age or the extent of their cognitive problems.

“These results suggest that taking this relatively safe form of curcumin could provide meaningful cognitive benefits over the years,” said Small, UCLA’s Parlow-Solomon professor on ageing.

Abstract
Objective: Because curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties may protect the brain from neurodegeneration, we studied its effect on memory in non-demented adults and explored its impact on brain amyloid and tau accumulation using 2-(1-{6-[(2-[F-18]fluoroethyl)(methyl)amino]-2-naphthyl}ethylidene)malononitrile positron emission tomography (FDDNP-PET).
Methods: Forty subjects (age 51–84 years) were randomized to a bioavailable form of curcumin (Theracurmin® containing 90 mg of curcumin twice daily [N = 21]) or placebo (N = 19) for 18 months. Primary outcomes were verbal (Buschke Selective Reminding Test [SRT]) and visual (Brief Visual Memory Test-Revised [BVMT-R]) memory, and attention (Trail Making A) was a secondary outcome. FDDNP-PET signals (15 curcumin, 15 placebo) were determined in amygdala, hypothalamus, medial and lateral temporal, posterior cingulate, parietal, frontal, and motor (reference) regions. Mixed effects general linear models controlling for age and education, and effect sizes (ES; Cohen’s d) were estimated.
Results: SRT Consistent Long-Term Retrieval improved with curcumin (ES = 0.63, p = 0.002) but not with placebo (ES = 0.06, p = 0.8; between-group: ES = 0.68, p = 0.05). Curcumin also improved SRT Total (ES = 0.53, p = 0.002), visual memory (BVMT-R Recall: ES = 0.50, p = 0.01; BVMT-R Delay: ES = 0.51, p = 0.006), and attention (ES = 0.96, p < 0.0001) compared with placebo (ES = 0.28, p = 0.1; between-group: ES = 0.67, p = 0.04). FDDNP binding decreased significantly in the amygdala with curcumin (ES = −0.41, p = 0.04) compared with placebo (ES = 0.08, p = 0.6; between-group: ES = 0.48, p = 0.07). In the hypothalamus, FDDNP binding did not change with curcumin (ES = −0.30, p = 0.2), but increased with placebo (ES = 0.26, p = 0.05; between-group: ES = 0.55, p = 0.02).
Conclusions: Daily oral Theracurmin may lead to improved memory and attention in non-demented adults. The FDDNP-PET findings suggest that symptom benefits are associated with decreases in amyloid and tau accumulation in brain regions modulating mood and memory.

Authors
Gary W Small, Prabha Siddarth, Zhaoping Li, Karen J Miller, Linda Ercoli, Natacha D Emerson, Jacqueline Martinez, Koon-Pong Wong, Jie Liu, David A Merrill, Stephen T Chen, Susanne M Henning, Nagichettiar Satyamurthy, Sung-Cheng Huang, David Heber, Jorge R Barrio

University of California – Los Angeles material
The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry abstract


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