People who eat more turmeric, a key ingredient in curry, are significantly less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and show better cognitive performance.[1,2] This has led researchers to wonder if turmeric benefits might actually prevent and/or treat Alzheimer’s disease. Here’s what the research currently shows about the turmeric – Alzheimer’s connection.
Preliminary turmeric – Alzheimer’s research
Until now, the research on turmeric extracts (curcumin) for Alzheimer’s has been limited to primarily test tube and animal studies. Among the wide range of turmeric benefits shown in these preliminary studies are reductions in Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, increased lifespan, and decreased degeneration of nervous system tissue in animal models of Alzheimer’s.[3,4]
How curcumin treats Alzheimer’s
Curcumin does this by acting via many different mechanisms. While it is most known for its antioxidant and anti-inﬂammatory actions, curcumin also appears to block cell signals that promote cell death and alter neurotransmission in the brain. Curcumin seems to treat Alzheimer’s through these and many other complex mechanisms—decreasing the formation of senile plaques in the brain, decreasing the toxicity of such plaques to delicate brain tissue, and/or increasing the clearance of plaques in the brain once they have already formed.
Human turmeric – Alzheimer’s studies
As a result of these promising preliminary findings, human clinical trials of curcumin supplements in patients with Alzheimer’s disease are under way, and a few small studies have already been completed. One was a six-month randomized controlled trial in 34 patients with Alzheimer’s disease which, unfortunately, showed no beneficial results in cognitive performance. Another was a 24-week randomized clinical trial in 36 mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease patients, which also showed no evident benefit on cognitive function with up to 4,000 mg per day of curcumin.
Despite these negative initial findings, however, researchers have not given up hope on curcumin for Alzheimer’s, and you shouldn’t either. It’s well known that curcumin isn’t easily absorbed (it gets metabolized and changed to other compounds in the digestive tract, before it goes into the bloodstream). It also doesn’t easily cross the blood-brain barrier to enter the brain.
Turmeric benefits may depend on making curcumin more bioavailable
To address this issue, curcumin needs to be formulated in a way that makes it more bioavailable and more likely to reach the brain. A number of formulations have been shown to enhance the bioavailability of curcumin:
- Curcumin combined in a proprietary way with phosphatidylcholine (soy lecithin from non-GMO soy). This more bioavailable type of curcumin is known as MERIVA® and also as Curcumin Phytosome®. It is made by Indena, an Italian company, and sold through a number of supplement companies in the US.
- Curcumin combined with turmeric essential oils in a product called BCM-95®, or Biocurcumax™, sold by Arjuna Natural Products and used by number of US-based supplement companies. 
- Curcumin combined with BioPerine®, a patented black pepper extract and natural bioavailability enhancer. A number of supplement companies in the US use this combination, and may add lecithin as well to enhance bioavailability even more, although this combination was shown to be less bioavailable than BCM-95®.
- Curcumin encapsulated in nanoparticles may someday be available. This encapsulated curcumin has already been developed and tested in animals and was shown to enter the brain and stimulate the production of neurons and improve memory in a rat model of Alzheimer’s disease.
Larger and longer human turmeric – Alzheimer’s studies underway
Perhaps if these types of curcumin supplements had been used in the two negative studies reported above, the results would have been different. Many turmeric – Alzheimer’s researchers believe that larger, longer studies are needed to generate meaningful results. It may also be that while curcumin can help prevent Alzheimer’s, it will never be great at treating the disease once it is well established.
Such studies are currently underway. I’m looking forward to their completion. Until then, you may still decide that turmeric benefits are worth it, especially if you take the more bioavailable forms listed above. The optimal dose will depend on the type of formulation you choose and your reasons for taking it. If in doubt, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Additional turmeric benefits
Even if you choose not to take turmeric for Alzheimer’s treatment or prevention, be aware that it’s been found to be an effective treatment for many kinds of chronic inflammatory conditions, from arthritis to cancer.
Share Your Experience
Do you take a turmeric supplement or add it to your diet? Have you found that it helps your health? Please share your experience below.