From fighting inflammation to relieving sore joints to clearing infections, the health benefits of turmeric, which contains the powerful medicinal compound called curcumin, have been long known. And now a new study conducted by UCLA researchers claims that the yellow colored Indian spice can improve memory and mood in people with mild, age-related memory loss.
The research, published online Jan. 19 in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 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.
The study followed a group of adults for 18 months while monitoring their behavior and cognitive abilities. It involved 40 subjects (age 51–84 years) who had mild memory complaints. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or 90 milligrams of curcumin twice daily for that time period.
Those who took a daily supplement of curcumin experienced significant improvements in their memory and attention abilities, while the subjects who received the placebo did not, said Dr. Gary Small, director of geriatric psychiatry at UCLA’s Longevity Center and of the geriatric psychiatry division at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, and the study’s first author. In memory tests, he said, the people taking curcumin improved by 28 percent over the 18 months. Those taking curcumin also had mild improvements in mood.
Indian American research statistician at UCLA’s Semel Institute Prabha Siddarth was also among the paper’s authors.
“Exactly how curcumin exerts its effects is not certain,” said Small. “But it may be due to its ability to reduce brain inflammation, which has been linked to both Alzheimer’s disease and major depression.”
“These results suggest that taking this relatively safe form of curcumin could provide meaningful cognitive benefits over the years,” Small added.
However, 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.