New Delhi: The health benefits of turmeric or 'haldi' – a spice found and used extensively in Indian households around the world – are firmly rooted in ancient Indian healing practices.
Often referred to as the 'Queen of Spices', turmeric has been generously used in almost everything, from treating colds and cough to wounds to skin infections.
A number of studies have also shown that turmeric has therapeutic properties – from boosting immunity to being anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, thanks to a compound called 'curcumin' present in the spice.
Some studies have also shown that it has cancer-curing properties.
Now, a study has claimed that the root may lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease by improving memory and mood in people with mild, age-related memory loss.
The research, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, examined the effects of an easily absorbed curcumin supplement on memory performance in people without dementia, as well as curcumins potential impact on the microscopic plaques and tangles in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.
It also has been suggested as a possible reason that senior citizens in India have a lower prevalence of Alzheimer's disease and better cognitive performance.
"Exactly how curcumin exerts its effects is not certain, but it may be due to its ability to reduce brain inflammation, which has been linked to both Alzheimer's disease and major depression," said Gary Small, from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the US.
The study involved 40 adults between the ages of 50 and 90 years who had mild memory complaints.
Participants were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or 90 milligrammes of curcumin twice daily for 18 months.
All 40 subjects received standardised cognitive assessments at the start of the study and at six-month intervals, and monitoring of curcumin levels in their blood at the start of the study and after 18 months.
Thirty of the volunteers underwent positron emission tomography, or PET scans, to determine the levels of amyloid and tau in their brains at the start of the study and after 18 months.
The people who took curcumin experienced significant improvements in their memory and attention abilities, while the subjects who received placebo did not, Small said.
In memory tests, the people taking curcumin improved by 28 percent over the 18 months.
Those taking curcumin also had mild improvements in mood, and their brain PET scans showed significantly less amyloid and tau signals in the amygdala and hypothalamus than those who took placebos.
The amygdala and hypothalamus are regions of the brain that control memory and emotional functions.
Four people taking curcumin, and two taking placebos, experienced mild side effects such as abdominal pain and nausea.
"These results suggest that taking this relatively safe form of curcumin could provide meaningful cognitive benefits over the years," said Small.
(With PTI inputs)