Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Curcumin -- a substance from the herb turmeric that gives Indian curry its yellow color -- improved memory and mood for people with a mild form of age-related memory loss, according to researchers at the University of California Los Angeles.
In Indian food, curcumin has long been used as a food flavoring and preservative. Fewer senior citizens in India have Alzheimer's disease and better cognitive performance, with the herb's presence in food theorized to play a role.
In past studies, curcumin has previously been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in lab studies. Turmeric, a native plant in Asia, has been used as a herbal remedy for arthritis, cancer, heart disease and other medical conditions.
"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," 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, said in a press release.
For the study, published in the American Journal of of Geriatric Psychiatry, researchers examined the effects of a curcumin supplement on memory performance for people without dementia and on the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.
Forty people were assessed over 18 months for curcumin levels in their blood. Of the volunteers, 30 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.
In memory tests, the people taking curcumin improved memory by 28 percent over the 18 months and those with a placebo had no improvement.
Also, those taking curcumin had mild improvements in mood, and their brain PET scans, compared with those who took placebos, showed significantly less amyloid and tau signals in regions of the brain that control memory and emotional functions: the amygdala and hypothalamus.
The researchers are planing a further study with a larger sample, including those with mild depression. They also want to examine whether the use of curcumin is linked to genetic risk of Alzheimer's.
"These results suggest that taking this relatively safe form of curcumin could provide meaningful cognitive benefits over the years," Small said.