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Exciting New Research on Curcumin, Alzheimer’s and Cancer

In India, Alzheimer’s disease rates are reportedly among the world’s lowest.  That may be because of those tasty Indian curries.

New research suggests the golden spice turmeric, the main spice in curry mixes, has potent action against Alzheimer’s disease.  In a study of mice genetically altered to develop Alzheimer’s, a component of turmeric, curcumin, inhibited the accumulation of destructive beta amyloid protein in the brain – the “tangles” that are the hallmark of the disease. What’s more, the spice also broke up existing plaques by boosting immune cells called macrophages to clear out the plaque.

These findings suggest that curcumin is more effective in inhibiting plaque formation than many other drugs being tested as Alzheimer’s treatments, the researchers concluded.

The results were published in the July 16, 2007, online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The prospect of finding a safe and effective new approach to both prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is tremendously exciting,” said lead researcher Gregory Cole, Ph.D., associate director of the UCLA Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.  The research center is planning human clinical trials to establish safe and effective doses in aging patients.

Curcumin also has strong anticancer activity. It blocks proliferation of human cancer cells and induces them to commit suicide, say researchers at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. This occurs when curcumin is mixed with head and neck cancer cells, prostate cancer cells, breast cancer cells and liver cancer cells. At the same time, curcumin does not harm non-malignant cells. Curcumin works by switching off genes that trigger inflammation and replication of cancer cells, say researchers.

Pure turmeric is only about 3 to 6 percent curcumin, by weight. However, there are other beneficial components in turmeric besides curcumin, so it is a good thing to eat. Curcumin concentrates have been isolated from turmeric and are available as supplements.  Exact amounts to prevent disease are not yet established.

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