Diets rich in curcumin, a compound found in the curry spice turmeric, may help explain why rates of Alzheimer's disease are much lower among the elderly in India compared with their Western peers. Alzheimer's disease is characterized by the build-up of amyloid protein "plaques" within the brain. In studies in rats, curcumin not only reduces the amyloid, but also reduces the brain's response to the amyloid say researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Previous studies have noted that elderly individuals living in Indian villages appear to have the lowest incidence of Alzheimer's disease in the world, with just 1% of those aged 65 and older developing the degenerative brain condition. The reasons for this low incidence remain unclear.
In the study, the researchers fed middle-aged and older rats diets rich in curcumin. All of the rats had received brain injections of amyloid to mimic progressive Alzheimer's disease. Curcumin was shown to reduce the accumulation of beta-amyloid and the associated loss of proteins in the synapses, or gaps, between individual brain cells. Synapses connect nerve cells and are crucial for memory.
Curcumin may not be the only compound in the kitchen spice rack able to ward off Alzheimer's. The researchers said that chemicals from rosemary and ginger, also high in Indian diets, have similar structure and should be tested.
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