NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A diet containing curry may help protect the aging brain, according a study of elderly Asians in which increased curry consumption was associated with better cognitive performance on standard tests.
Curcumin, found in the curry spice turmeric, possesses potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
It’s known that long-term users of anti-inflammatory drugs have a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, although these agents can have harmful effects in the stomach, liver and kidney, limiting their use in the elderly.
Antioxidants, such as vitamin E, have been shown to protect neurons in lab experiments but have had limited success in alleviating cognitive decline in patients with mild-to-moderate dementia.
In their study, Dr. Tze-Pin Ng from National University of Singapore and colleagues compared scores on the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) for three categories of regular curry consumption in 1,010 nondemented Asians who were between 60 and 93 years old in 2003.
Most of the study subjects consumed curry at least occasionally (once every 6 months), 43 percent ate curry at least often or very often (between monthly and daily) while 16 percent said they never or rarely ate curry.
After taking into account factors that could impact test results, they found that people who consumed curry “occasionally” and “often or very often” had significantly better MMSE scores than did those who “never or rarely” consumed curry.
“Even with the low and moderate levels of curry consumption reported by the respondents, better cognitive performance was observed,” Ng and colleagues report.]
These results, they note, provide “the first epidemiologic evidence supporting a link between curry consumption and cognitive performance that has been suggested by a large volume of earlier experimental evidence.”
Curry is used widely by people in India and “interestingly,” the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease among India’s elderly ranks is fourfold less than that seen in the United States.
“In view of its efficacy and remarkably low toxicity,” curry shows promise for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers conclude.
SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology, November 1, 2006.