Turmeric
Curcuma longa

Turmeric is a spice derived from the rhizomes of Curcuma longa, which is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). Rhizomes are horizontal underground stems that send out shoots as well as roots. The bright yellow color of turmeric comes mainly from polyphenolic pigments, known as curcuminoids. Curcumin is the principal curcuminoid found in turmeric, and is generally considered its most active constituent

Now, preliminary findings from the University of California, Los Angeles, suggest that curcumin comes to the aid of immune system cells called macrophages to clear away amyloid beta.  "We know that macrophages aren't working properly in Alzheimer's patients, since they seem to be defective in cleaning amyloid-beta from brain slices", explained lead researcher Dr. Milan Fiala, a researcher with the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the VA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System.

"We have found that curcumin can help some macrophages to function properly in a test tube," Fiala said. He said more work is needed to see if the spice works similarly in the human brain, however. Curcumin is already known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Earlier research by another UCLA team found that curcumin-fed mice with Alzheimer's plaques experienced a decrease in inflammation and reduced plaque formation.

The new findings are in current issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.  In the study, the UCLA researchers obtained blood samples from six Alzheimer's patients and three healthy controls. They next isolated macrophages and treated them with a curcumin solution for 24 hours, then added amyloid beta.   Macrophages from three of the Alzheimer's patients were observed to start ingesting the plaque-forming proteins.

"Our research has helped to identify why the brain isn't being cleared of amyloid beta in Alzheimer's disease patients," Fiala said. "The immune system can attack and remove amyloid-beta from the brain, but the job is not done properly in Alzheimer's patients."   Fiala said macrophages might be as important for Alzheimer's disease as insulin is for diabetes. "If we can improve the immune system, we can help the body's natural ability to clear damaging plaques," he said.

"In terms of treatment implications, it's very interesting that curcumin seems to help the brain clear away beta amyloid," noted Dr. Sam Gandy, chair of the medical and scientific advisory council at the Alzheimer's Association.  "The study also shows an additional mechanism [besides curcumin's anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties] that looks at the actual clean up of plaques," said Gandy, who is also director of the Farber Institute for Neurosciences at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

Curcumin's health benefits may extend beyond Alzheimer's disease. One recent six-month study, carried out by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, found that daily doses of the spice were associated with a nearly 60 percent lower risk for colon polyps, a known precursor to colon cancer.  
A recent study involving mice has shown that turmeric slows the spread of breast cancer into lungs and other body parts. Turmeric also enhances the effect of taxol in reducing metastasis of breast cancer.  It is also said that turmeric can strengthen the blood-brain barrier against attacks that result from auto-immune diseases (such as Multiple sclerosis)[ 

Curry Pharmaceuticals, based in North Carolina, is studying the use of a curcumin cream for psoriasis treatment. Another company is already selling a cream based on curcumin called "Psoria-Gold," which shows anecdotal promise of treating the disease.  Turmeric is currently used in the formulation of some sun screens. Turmeric paste is used by Indian women to keep them free of superfluous hair.  The Government of Thailand is funding a project to extract and isolate tetrahydrocurcuminoids (THC) from turmeric. THCs are colorless compounds that might have antioxidant and skin lightening properties and might be used to treat skin inflammations, making these compounds useful in cosmetics formulations.

References:
By Angela Pirisi, HealthDay Reporter, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curcumin
Jane Higdon, Ph.D. Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State, Education Information Center, Phytochemicals, Curcumin

Curcumin Inhibits Amyloid Plaques, Tze-Pin Ng, National University of Singapore, New Science Magazine, 08/04/06, page 18

Yang F, Lim GP, Begum AN, et al. Curcumin inhibits formation of amyloid beta oligomers and fibrils, binds plaques, and reduces amyloid in vivo. J Biol Chem. 2005;280(7):5892-5901. (PubMed)

The Molecular Targets and Therapeutic Uses of Curcumin in Health and Disease, by Bharat B. Aggarwl, Young-joon Surh, and Shishir Shishodia, Springer Science and Business Media, 2007

 

 

 

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