Specially formulated supplements of curcumin—the active ingredient in the spice turmeric—improve memory and focus in people who don’t have dementia. They also may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientific evidence: Researchers at UCLA Longevity Center recruited 40 healthy middle-aged and elderly people. For 18 months, 21 of them took a curcumin supplement twice daily, while 19 took a placebo. At the beginning and again at the end of the study, their short-term verbal and visual memory abilities—such as recalling memorized words and images—were tested. And their brains were scanned for toxic amyloid plaques and tau tangles, two signs of Alzheimer’s.
Key findings: After 18 months, participants taking curcumin had significantly improved results on the memory tests. (Bonus: They also had improved mood.) Participants taking the placebo had little or no improvement in memory. What’s more, the follow-up brain scans showed that the curcumin group, compared with the placebo group, had lower levels of amyloid and tau deposits.
The Right Kind of Curcumin Supplement
While curcumin in its natural state—in the spice turmeric and in many supplements—is poorly absorbed by the body, there are five formulations that research has shown are well-absorbed. The UCLA researchers used one of them, Theracurmin, at a dose of 90 mg twice daily. (A one-month supply costs about $53.) The other four are Meriva, Curcumin C3 Complex, BCM-95 and CurcuWIN. All are available online.
More research is needed before we know whether curcumin supplements actually prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin supplements have a strong safety record, but they can cause stomach upset in some people. And they act as blood thinners, so doctors generally say that curcumin should not be taken by people using blood-thinning drugs. To determine whether curcumin is safe for you—and what a proper dose might be—it’s best to work with a doctor who has studied this supplement.
If you take curcumin, though, you may find that you experience more benefits. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that has been found to help relieve arthritis pain, ease muscle soreness after exercise and relieve allergy symptoms.