ginger turmeric and pepper spices, cognitive ability, curcumin control

A component of curry seems to have cognitive benefits in older adults. Curcumin is a principal ingredient in turmeric, and turmeric gives curry its distinctive yellow color. A new study of 40 people between 50 and 90 years old found that taking a curcumin supplement improved their cognitive ability, especially verbal and visual memory and attention (Small et al, American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, Jan. 19, 2018).

What Did the Researchers Do?

The UCLA investigators randomly assigned the volunteers to take curcumin or a placebo look-alike pill. (They used Theracurmin® 90 mg twice daily as the active supplement.) The study subjects took tests before starting and every six months throughout the 18-month trial. Three-fourths of them also underwent PET scans of their brains to detect changes in activity.

The people taking curcumin saw a 28 percent improvement in their cognitive test scores, while those on placebo did not. The group on the active supplement also registered a modest improvement in mood.

The PET scans revealed that those taking curcumin had less amyloid and tau apparent in their brains. These proteins are linked to Alzheimer-type dementia. Less of these proteins might help explain their improved cognitive ability.

Curcumin Side Effects:

Curcumin did produce some side effects. Four of the people on this supplement reported digestive distress, while two of those on placebo had a similar reaction.

Curcumin could also interact with warfarin or other anticoagulant medication to make bleeding more likely.

The investigators conclude,

“this relatively inexpensive and nontoxic treatment may have a potential for not only improving age-related memory decline but also preventing or possibly staving off progression of neurodegeneration and eventually future symptoms of Alzheimer disease.”

Other Benefits of Turmeric:

Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. It has powerful anti-inflammatory activity, which has been used to ease joint pain. Scientists have reported that it may help protect against cancer and liver disease. Some people find that taking curcumin or adding turmeric to the diet eases their psoriasis. This spice can trigger an allergic reaction for certain individuals, however, so a rash should be taken seriously.

Learn More:

You’ll find much more information about turmeric and other spices that help fight inflammation in our book, Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life.

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  1. Jesse

    My doctors don’t think Curcumin will improve cognitive ability, but they warn against it for many reasons. I can’t take it because I have Macular Degeneration and a brain meningioma. Blood thinner is dangerous as is Curcumin for many illnesses. Dangerous to take supplement and also prescription drugs when we don’t know all they can do to us. Even Aspirin can make Macular Degeneration worse. A well-balanced plant-based diet is the better medicine.

    • Terry Graedon

      Yes, curcumin would be dangerous for anyone taking an anticoagulant and also for anyone, like you, for whom an anticoagulant would be risky.

  2. Frederick Milton O III
    Madison, Wisconsin

    One cannot read all the scientific papers one wishes to… there simply isn’t time. I missed many recent articles and papers on Curcumin and Liposomal Curcumin.

    Here is an interesting paper I just found online that discusses Liposomal Curcumin and some ways of making it. The “Freeze-Thaw” method may be amenable to home use with proper basic R&D.

    U.S. National Library of Medicine — National Institute of Health (NIH)

  3. Frederick Milton O III
    Madison, Wisconsin

    A study with 40 subjects is a very small research sample. We should further note that in this study only 20 people actually took a commercial supplement, cutting the number of people who were actually studied for the effects of a commercial supplement in half. One cannot merely take it for granted that a 40 subject study proves anything, and getting all excited about it is less-than-optimal science reporting.

    It also seems counter-productive to me to for this article to seemingly conflate a commercial supplement with turmeric at the end of the article. They are not the same.

    I take turmeric daily with black pepper (piperine) and cocoa powder (quercitin) to enhance curcumin absorption. I am also a caregiver for someone with memory problems, which makes my quest to avoid them all the more urgent on a daily basis. I will only put my faith in real science, not in the cheerleading crypto-advertising “schmience reporting” in the mainstream media.

    Liposomic Curcumin may offer increased absorption with fewer cases of digestive upset as a side-effect. Studies are needed, as well as a simple DIY method of producing Liposomic Curcumin at home.

    I would like to see follow-up studies that have a much larger number of subjects participating before I will accept that a 20 person study of a commercial supplement is valid.

  4. Rita M

    I started taking Turmeric for my arthritis and it really helped a lot. The pain actually went into remission and I stopped taking it. It was great for at least a couple of months when arthritis pain came back, I went back on it. Turmeric works.

  5. Larry M
    Raleigh, NC

    > The people taking curcumin saw a 28 percent improvement in their cognitive test scores, while those on placebo did not.

    What about “word finding.” I’m 72 and typically pass the cognitive tests every six month with top scores. But I still have the frustrating over-60 word-finding problem. Everyone shrugs it off, but it’s annoying and makes me look bad.

    Has there been any testing with curcumin specifically on word-finding?

  6. Shirley

    Theracurmin® 90 mg. Where is this product available in this strength? I’d love to try it, being 83 and still living alone. I do find myself getting a little short on short-term memory.

  7. Lili

    How would one decide if it would be better to take curcumin or tumeric ?

  8. x

    It would be helpful for readers if you could let them know who funded this trial and who among the investigators has financial interests. After double checking the report given here on another site I decided reviewed the actual paper. There seems to be more than one party who might be interested in the trial outcome. That does not mean the trial is not valid, but I think it is information readers want to know.

  9. Evelyn

    What is the optimal mg to take daily?

    • Terry Graedon

      This study used 180 mg a day: 90 morning and 90 evening. That’s not a bad place to start.

  10. Pat

    Aside then from the studies mentioned, what is the dosage recommended for a daily supplement???

  11. Janez

    Absolutelly, I have 71 years and last three years I take every day curcumin. It best solution for arthritis and menatal health.

  12. rosa
    balto. md

    I also heard that ROSAMARY can help your memory..

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