Turmeric and Alzheimer’s Prevention

Superfood? Nah.

Turmeric and Alzheimer's Prevention

I can smell it from here. Love this stuff.

It’s a loaded question. I patently reject the idea of superfoods or super-evil foods. There is no food or supplement on the planet that will catapult you to immediate super health. Nor is there any food, sans toxins or poisons, that will cause immediate disease. Superfoods and evil foods are sales pitches meant to sell a product that wouldn’t otherwise sell. So when Dave Asprey at Bulletproof Executive urges you to buy from his last lots of charcoal tablets please ignore him and keep your money. If cash is burning a hole in your pocket then I’ll certainly take it – you can donate it to me here –  or you can give it to the National Academy of Sciences who actively fights such harmful pseudo-scientific drivel. If you’re aching for some charred organics then come by my place any time that you smell the grill and I’ll cook one of my famous burgers that even the dog won’t eat.

My argument is simple: living a healthy life of good food, simple exercise, and meaningful relationships will promote and maintain health better than anything from a bottle. The counter-argument, it’s a good one, is that most people don’t eat right, hate exercise, and generally despise their family. I won’t argue. But my goal is to encourage people who opt for health. There are plenty of others who recognize that the real money comes from pointing out just how unhealthy you are and selling you things to cover your symptoms.

But Is turmeric a superfood?

But lately, I’ve become interested in the promise of turmeric (also called curcumin). I’ve read that the region in India with the highest turmeric consumption is almost devoid of Alzheimer’s Disease. There are a multitude of reasons why this could be so and, so far, I’ve yet to find research that fully supports the claim. The argument appears anecdotal but there is work with animals that shows promise. Take anything you read with a grain of salt as this is exactly the kind of news story that causes almost uncontrolled glee from makers of vitamins and supplements. They see a veritable trough of money filled by good folks wanting to avoid the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s. And who doesn’t? But as of yet, there is nothing clear and verifiable in the relation between turmeric and brain health.

Experts and turmeric

Turmeric and Alzheimer's Prevention

Beta-amyloid plaques. When found in the brain, each plaque spells the end of the line for memories, identity, and ideas.

Per Britain’s Alzheimers Society, turmeric is known to have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-amyloid characteristics. Amyloids are plaques or holes of a sort in tissue. They relate to Alzheimer’s in a way similar to damaged tracks for a train. Think of a memory as an idea following a particular electrical path in your brain just like a train on a track. As long as the tracks are all in place the train and the memory arrive where they intend to be. But if there is a broken piece of track the train can’t advance. This is how Alzheimer’s is believed to work. An idea or memory follows a particular pathway but is derailed by plaques that stop the memory or throw it off course. This is also how Alzheimer’s progresses. Imagine the train again. It’s one thing if the track breaks within sight of your stop. It’s another thing altogether if the tracks fail a mile from the start. Similarly, Alzheimer’s begins with confusion about the last steps: “I’ve got to go get my wife from the dentist. Where are my keys?” It insidiously progresses, in this scenario, until one possibly no longer recognizes that they are married. 

It has been shown in studies that turmeric can break down beta-amyloid plaques in animals. What kind of restored brain function would result from these repaired breaks is not clear. It is recognized that, while turmeric’s anti-plaque activity can be seen in animal research, the results are not duplicated in human clinical studies. There are possible reasons for this. Turmeric has a low bio-availabity meaning that it is not easily absorbed. Or it just might not have the same effects in humans that it has on rats or mice. More work is needed.

From the Alzheimer’s Society’s site, I learned that another compound in turmeric, turmerone, has the unique ability to promote neural stem cell growth. These studies have only been performed on animals to date and the researchers warn that it would be unlikely that humans would be able to consume the amounts necessary to see results.

Turmeric Tea

For what it’s worth, I have decided to up my turmeric intake. I love curry and could eat Indian food most days of the week but will happily satisfy myself with a comforting hot tea. I use a peeler to collect several slices of turmeric and ginger and steep them in hot water with honey for a few minutes and voila! At work, I drink a cup of Pukka brand turmeric tea in the afternoon. If your tea taste leans toward jasmine or Lipton this brew will be different. It’s earthy and peppery which gives me a nice mid-afternoon jolt.

Buyer Beware

Turmeric and Alzheimer's PreventionBesides the science of turmeric and Alzheimer’s, the other take away here is to always check in with a recognized source of science information for questions about health and wellness. Have you ever seen a book with ‘Not a Great Read!’ splashed on the cover? Neither will you find that anyone selling you stuff reveals that it probably won’t do what they’re selling it for. Educate yourself to make informed decisions about your health. No one else will.

The Takeaway

I doubt very seriously that a cup of tea per day, or even a plate of curried vegetables, will stave off any of the issues associated with neural plaques. But, as I repeat often when it comes to health and exercise, it all adds up. And the tea tastes good and there appears to be no downside. So drink up and enjoy.


Go here to see the turmeric page for the Alzheimer’s Society
Go here for an excellent overview of the relationship of turmeric to health in the Annals of Indian Academy for Neurology
Go here for the WebMD turmeric page
Actually charred meats are not a healthy alternative to charcoal briquettes. See this from the National Cancer Institute.
Make your own turmeric tea with Dr. Weil.
Ideas for incorporating more turmeric into your diet.