Words by Kristal Roberts 

If you walk into any island home, you’re almost guaranteed to find curry powder.

The seasoning is a staple in many cultures and in many homes, but over the last few years, research suggests that curry could become paramount in warding off a number of neurodegenerative illnesses, including Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, which is a loss of brain function that occurs with multiple diseases.

Alzheimer’s gradually gets worse over time, affecting memory, thinking and behavior.

Previous studies have reported that a compound in curry powder called curcumin, reduces inflammation in the body and helps to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. There have been over 1,000 animal and human studies published on the benefits of curcumin.

A 2008 National Institute of Health academic publication states that several studies have found  significantly lower incidences of Alzheimer’s in India, a nation of people with high consumption rates for curry. Adults 70 to 79 years of age in India are 4.4 times less likely to have Alzheimer’s than Americans of the same age range.

The same publication reported that curry’s anti-inflammatory function on nerve cells plays a major role in the reduction of Alzheimer’s, easing oxidation as well as inflammation. A study at Jawaharlal Nehru University (India) found that curcumin significantly reduced lipid peroxidation and lipofuscin accumulation, something that increases with age.

But a more recent German study reports that aromatic tumerone, a lesser-studied, bioactive compound found in curry powder, can actually encourage cell growth to repair the brain.  The study states the compound could help scientists develop treatments for conditions where brain cells are lost.

In one experiment, researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Germany injected the aromatic tumerone compound into rats and scanned their brains.

The results, published in The Stem Cell Research and Therapy Journal, showed there was an explosion of new brain cell growth and the parts of the brain involved with nerve cell growth were teeming with activity.

Another part of the study included rodents’ Neural Stem Cells (NSC) being bathed in tumerone. Scientists found that the higher the concentration of tumerone, the greater the cell growth in NSCs.

NSCs have the ability to transform into any type of brain cell and scientists believe NSCs can be used to repair brain cells after damage or disease.

They also discovered that the turmeric compound seemed to specialize in regenerating certain types of brain cells more quickly.

“It is interesting that it might be possible to boost the effectiveness of the stem cells with aromatic-turmerone,” said Dr. Maria Adele Rueger, the study’s leading researcher.

“And it is possible this in turn can help boost repair in the brain.”

Researchers believe that these findings may lead to medicine for stroke and Alzheimers’ in the future.

More trials are needed before it’s clear whether the findings will apply to humans.

While scientists continue to research, push for human trials and work toward creating drugs based from curry properties, enjoy your next pot of curry stew or your next batch of curry roti with a toast to your mental health!