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Researchers taking sample of curcumin for protecting memory and better absorption

Curcumin For the Brain

Curcumin helps form new neurons and protect memory. New data demonstrate how curcumin can penetrate the blood-brain barrier.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, on December 2021. Written By Deep Shukla, PHD.

Brain and stem that is being supported by the nutrient curcumin for anti-inflammation

Curcumin is best known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

Interestingly, research has identified added benefits for curcumin, specifically for the brain.

In animal and human studies, curcumin has been shown to:1-5

  • Form new neurons in the hippocampus.
  • Improve performance on memory tests.
  • Reduce neuroinflammation.
  • Protect against memory loss.

It is challenging to derive these full benefits because curcumin is poorly absorbed.4

Scientists have found that combining curcumin with fenugreek galactomannan increases its bioavailability (absorbability) by up to 45.5 times greater compared to regular curcumin.6

Increasing Curcumin Bioavailability

Researcher dividing turmeric for studying the curcumin for increasing bioavailability

Curcumin is the main active ingredient in the spice turmeric.

It has potential benefits in combating a range of conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and cardiovascular disorders.7,8

But curcumin itself has poor bioavailability. Only a small fraction of the amount consumed is absorbed into the bloodstream. And most of it is metabolized in the body into other compounds or eliminated from the body.9-11

Curcumin’s use for brain disorders is also hindered by its limited ability to cross the blood-brain barrier.

Scientists have discovered a way around these problems.

They found that supplementation with curcumin combined with galactomannans from the herb fenugreek resulted in levels of free curcuminoids in the blood up to 45.5 times greater compared to standard curcumin alone.6

This curcumin-galactomannan complex is able to easily cross the blood-brain barrier to deliver more curcuminoids than unformulated curcumin.6,12

A 2021 animal study shows that this curcumin-galactomannan complex delivered more curcuminoids to the brain’s hippocampus than unformulated curcumin.12

The hippocampus is a region of the brain that has a major role in learning and memory.

Two human studies confirm the brain benefits of this novel curcumin-galactomannan complex.

In one, this formulation was effective at reducing stress, anxiety, and fatigue.13

In a 2020 human study, oral intake of 500 mg of the curcumin-galactomannan complex twice daily resulted in positive changes in brain activity levels and improved performance in audio-visual and memory tests.4

Electroencephalogram (EEG) results verified the curcumin-fenugreek complex’s penetration of the blood-brain barrier, providing brain benefits previously unavailable.

Preventing Cognitive Decline

Neurodegeneration is characterized by the progressive damage and loss of function of neurons that occurs with aging and neurodegenerative diseases.

Some of the common mechanisms underlying these diseases include:

  • Chronic inflammation, which can damage brain cells,14
  • Oxidative stress, which leads to cell damage and death,15,16 and
  • Accumulation of misfolded proteins, which are toxic to neurons.16

Curcumin targets all these problems.

Preclinical research shows that curcumin can reduce neuroinflammation.2,3

Other work in preclinical models shows that curcumin could protect the brain against oxidative stress by activating the protein Nrf2,17,18 which is involved in increasing antioxidant levels in the brain.19

Curcumin also activates antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase17 and directly neutralizes free radicals.20

Studies in rats show that curcumin can reverse memory loss caused by aging.12,21

Besides its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, curcumin spurs the formation of new neurons in a brain region called the hippocampus.5

A population-level study of elderly Asian individuals showed that regular curcumin intake in the form of curried food was associated with protection against cognitive decline.22

Fighting Parkinson’s Disease

Protecting the Brain with Curcumin

Researcher examining brain scan that is being supported by the active compound curcumin
  • Curcumin is an active compound in turmeric, the spice. It has potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer properties.
  • By reducing inflammation, oxidative stress, and the buildup of toxic proteins, curcumin may prevent cognitive decline.
  • Lab and animal research shows this compound may also reduce damage from strokes, prevent Parkinson’s disease, relieve symptoms of multiple sclerosis, and ease diabetic neuropathy.
  • Combining curcumin with a fiber called galactomannans makes it up to 45.5 times more bioavailable than standard curcumin. It can also more easily pass through the blood-brain barrier, enabling it to exert its neuroprotective effects.

Parkinson’s disease is a common neurodegenerative disorder that leads to tremors, muscular rigidity, slowness of movement, and difficulty maintaining balance.23

These symptoms are caused by the loss of dopamine neurons in a brain region called the substantia nigra, which plays an important role in movement and motivated behaviors.24

While the underlying cause of Parkinson’s disease is not clearly understood, both mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress have emerged as major contributors to the neurodegeneration seen in Parkinson’s disease.25

Curcumin alleviates both oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage in animal models of Parkinson’s.26,27

In human patients with Parkinson’s disease, low levels of the antioxidant glutathione are observed in dopamine neurons from the substantia nigra. Curcumin activates antioxidant enzymes to prevent the depletion of glutathione.28

Parkinson’s also involves the formation of clumps of the misfolded protein alpha-synuclein.29 These protein aggregates have toxic effects on dopamine neurons.

Preclinical studies show that curcumin can inhibit the accumulation ofalpha-synuclein and prevent the death of dopamine neurons.30,31 This may help slow the development of Parkinson’s disease.

Relieving Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder that afflicts over 2.5 million people worldwide.32 Severe cases can lead to vision loss, paralysis, and impaired brain function.

Multiple sclerosis occurs when the immune system causes neuroinflammation in the central nervous system and interruption of the blood-brain barrier.33

This inflammation damages the protective myelin sheath that covers nerve fibers. The resulting harm to neurons hinders their ability to communicate.

Curcumin has been shown, in animal models, to lower levels of pro-inflammatory proteins and aid in myelin repair. This reduced the severity of multiple sclerosis symptoms.33-35

Easing Diabetic Nerve Pain

Man carrying mountain bike dealing with neuropathic pain from diabetes

Neuropathic pain is caused by damage to the nerves that relay pain signals from the muscles and skin to the spinal cord and brain. It often affects patients with diabetes.36

Studies in mice show that curcumin can reduce diabetes-related hyperalgesia (increased sensitivity to pain).37,38

Various inflammatory cytokines, such as nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB) and TNF-alpha, are responsible for the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy.39 Curcumin reduces levels of these pro-inflammatory cytokines to relieve hyperalgesia.38

In a rat model of diabetic neuropathy, curcumin reduced the oxidative stress that contributes to the dysfunction of neurons.40

Reducing Damage from Strokes

There are two major types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic.

Ischemic strokes account for almost 90% of all strokes. They are caused by a blood clot or obstruction in an artery. The disruption in blood flow to the brain leads to oxygen deprivation, brain cell death, and damage to the blood-brain barrier.41

Animal studies show that curcumin reduces the size of the ischemic injury and prevents behavioral impairment. Curcumin exerts these neuroprotective effects by:

  • Preventing damage to the blood-brain barrier,42
  • Inhibiting cell death,43
  • Counteracting oxidative stress,44 and
  • Reducing the inflammatory response.45

The other main kind of stroke is caused by intracerebral hemorrhage, in which there is a bursting or leaking of a blood vessel. One of its major complications is a cerebral edema, when fluid builds up around the brain. The increased pressure and lower cerebral blood flow can damage brain cells.

Curcumin alleviates edema and reduces behavioral impairments in animal models of intracerebral hemorrhage. It does this by modulating the expression of proteins called aquaporins that reduce brain water content.46

Traumatic brain injuries caused by external mechanical force also result in inflammation, cerebral edema, blood-brain barrier damage, and oxidative stress.47,48 Rodent models show that curcumin can reduce the brain damage caused by trauma by countering these adverse effects.49-51

Summary

Doctor examining brain scan of patient with a neurodegenerative disease for inflammation

Most neurodegenerative diseases share common features, including the accumulation of toxic proteins, inflammation, and oxidative stress.

Curcumin helps reduce or prevent all of these.

Studies have shown that it may help reduce or slow the development of a wide variety of brain disorders.

A curcumin-galactomannan complex is highly absorbable and easily crosses the blood-brain barrier.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

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