The compound that gives curry dishes their distinctive yellow color and kick has emerged as a promising potential treatment for Alzheimer's disease, new research shows.
A new analysis in the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society – Chemical & Engineering News – reports numerous studies have found curcumin, a spice compound extracted from the turmeric plant, decreases inflammation and oxidation in the brain linked to Alzheimer’s. Studies involving mice have also found the compound inhibits the aggregation of plaques in the brain linked to the condition.
But the development of curcumin as an Alzheimer’s drug has been stymied, in part, by a lack of funds for effective clinical trials, the scientists said.
“There’s a great need for inexpensive Alzheimer’s treatments,” said Larry W. Baum, a professor in the School of Pharmacy at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. As a result, he said, many researchers have turned their attention to less pricy alternatives, such as compounds from plants and other natural sources. Curcumin has stood out among some of the more promising naturally derived candidates, Baum noted.
Lauren K. Wolf, C&EN associate editor, noted drug companies have invested heavily in developing new Alzheimer’s medications. More than 5 million people in the U.S. have the disease and that the number is projected to rise to 16 million by 2050.
The new report details scientific evidence about curcumin's potential and the hurdles that chemists must overcome to craft it into a drug. For instance, only tiny amounts of powdered curcumin taken by mouth get into the blood, let alone the brain.
Curcumin has been used as a traditional medicine in India for thousands of years for a variety of ailments, including digestive disorders and joint pain.
In the 1970s, Western researchers began confirming curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties in the laboratory. Scientists also eventually determined that the polyphenolic compound is an antioxidant and has chemotherapeutic potential.