Turmeric and dementia
There is currently limited evidence from research studies in people to suggest that turmeric, which is a type of spice, can prevent or treat dementia.
Can turmeric help treat dementia?
There is currently no real evidence that supports turmeric being used to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease.
A number of studies have used mouse and cell models of dementia and shown that curcumin, one component of turmeric, could be beneficial.
However, there have been a small number of research studies in humans that have shown that turmeric is not easily absorbed by the body.
More research in adults with dementia is needed before we can establish if turmeric could be used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
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What are the claims about turmeric, curcumin and dementia risk?
Many different studies have explored the potential role of turmeric as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Most research is centred around curcumin, which is one component of turmeric.
Most of the studies investigating curcumin have been performed in mice or in cells. These have suggested that curcumin can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.
Some findings have also suggested that curcumin may be able to prevent the formation, and even break up, amyloid-beta plaques, the toxic protein clumps that build up in Alzheimer’s disease.
However, the results from a very small number of clinical studies, in humans, have been mixed and have not found the same results as the studies in cells and mice.
The way that curcumin may work within the brain is unclear and we need more research looking into its mechanism.
There are several research studies currently being carried out looking at the anti-inflammatory role of curcumin. These will hopefully provide more insight into the benefit of curcumin in adults with dementia.
Can turmerone help people with dementia?
Another chemical in turmeric that has been studied in the lab is turmerone. In animal studies, turmerone has been shown to stimulate stem cells to make new brain cells, something that could in theory help with neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer's disease.
However, these experiments are in their infancy and we do not yet know whether turmerone would have the same effect on stem cells in people.
We also don't yet understand whether stimulating the production of new brain cells is a useful approach for people with dementia.
Should I incorporate turmeric into my diet?
Turmeric and curcumin are not easily absorbed into the body and tend to be broken down quickly which means it is not available to be used in biological processes.
So the levels of turmeric you would need to consume, to match the levels that cells were exposed to in test tube experiments, would be exceptionally high. It also makes developing drugs based on turmeric activity very difficult.
Turmeric is currently unlikely to prevent or relieve Alzheimer's disease. We need further studies in adults with dementia before we can make any definitive conclusions.
With evidence from laboratory studies suggesting that it could be beneficial, it is worth further exploring the effects of turmeric and curcumin to see if it could lead to the development of new treatments.
Reduce your risk of dementia
Read our advice on how to reduce your risk of dementia.