Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Named after the German doctor who first described the condition, Alois Alzheimer, it is a progressive disease during which proteins build up and form “plaques” in the brain. Plaque development causes cell death resulting in neural signaling disruption, and a reduction in the development of neurotransmitters.
Initially, patients may present with more mild symptoms, such as slight memory lapses. Later as more neurons in the hippocampus begin to die, patients may experience more severe memory impairment, which can affect daily life. Patients may go on to have difficulty with language, concentration, orientation and may begin to suffer from anxiety and depression. In the later stages patients will need more day-to-day support and will often experience difficulties eating or walking without help.
The disease predominately affects people over the age of 65, and affects women more commonly than men. In 2016, it was estimated that there were 564,000 Canadians living with dementia, approximately 14% of the population over the age of 65. By 2030, these numbers are expected to rise to over 900,000. The cost of Alzheimer’s disease is staggering with healthcare and social care costs estimated to be $10.4 billion annually.
Despite heavy investment into Alzheimer’s disease research, the exact cause of the disease remains unknown. Currently there is no cure for the disease, though there are drugs on the market that can help alleviate some of the symptoms. Risk factors include age, gender, BMI and cardiovascular disease.
Some research has suggested that the overexpression of proinflammatory cytokines contributes to plaque formation and subsequent neuronal death. Proinflammatory cytokines are produced by support cells in the brain called microglial cells.
Curcumin (turmeric), is a herb commonly used in East Asian curry powder. Due to its antioxidant properties, curcumin has been used extensively to treat a plethora of medical conditions including heart disease, arthritis and liver diseases. It has been suggested that curcumin may aid in the prevention and potential treatment in Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown that curcumin blocks NF-kB a signaling molecule that leads to the production of proinflammatory cytokines. A study conducted at UCLA medical center showed that curcumin aids macrophages (immune cells) in clearing amyloid plaques. The macrophages from Alzheimer’s patients treated with curcumin showed increased uptake and ingestion of plaques compared to the macrophages from patients that were not given curcumin supplementation. By reducing inflammation and by promoting plaque destruction, curcumin may have a potential role in curing the disease.
Whilst there have only been a few human clinical trials with small sample sizes looking at the effects of curcumin in Alzheimer’s, various epidemiological studies have shown that there is a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s in East Asian countries, where curcumin is consumed on a daily basis. Interestingly, researchers found that individuals who consumed curcumin more regularly preformed better on cognitive tests than those who only occasionally consumed curcumin. Finally, high fat diets and high blood cholesterol levels are both risk factors in the development of Alzheimer’s. Curcumin has been shown to reduce cholesterol formation, which may in turn reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Although the main chemical property that can be used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s has not been determined, curcumin remains a promising preventative supplement for this devastating disease.
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