Curry keeps Alzheimer's at bay

(Article printed in The Times, 19th April 2004, by Sam Lister)

THEY may be a challenge to the consumer's constitution, but hot curries do not just test the taste buds and the stomach, they also guard against the deterioration of the brain.

A study into the health benefits of curcumin, found in everything from the mildest korma to the hottest vindaloo, has revealed its power to protect against the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

Scientists have identified curcumin oil as a chemical trigger that enhances enzyme activity, protecting the brain against the progression of neurodegenerative disease. A chemical compound extracted from tumeric, curcumin has been found to work wonders on many illnesses - be it as an antiseptic, a guard against liver damage or a medication to assist the treatment of cancer and Aids. Now research by scientists from Italy and America has confirmed its role in helping to encourage a lucid old-age. Studies on rats found that curcumin induces an enzyme, hemeoxygenase (HO-1), which operates as a defence mechanism against "free radicals," rogue molecules that cause cells to function abnormally and die.

The damage done by free radicals to intracellular targets such as DNA or proteins has been shown to be a major cause of diseases such as Alzheimer's and are thought to be a major factor in the way people age. The work by researchers from the University of Catania, Italy, and New York Medical College, presented to the American Physiological Society, showed that rat neurons exposed to higher concentrations of curcumin were less affected by cell damage due to increased levels of HO-1. The team described the findings as "an important first step" in determining curry's role as a preventive agent against neurodegenerative conditions such as Azheimer's and its possible benefits for slowing the progression of the disease.

Tumeric is used in powder form in curries, and is prepared by boiling the root for several hours, then drying it for a long-period before crushing. India, which produces and consumes most of the world's tumeric, has much lower rates of Alzheimer's among the elderly than Western countries, dropping to as little as one per cent of over-65s in some areas.

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