If you have ever enjoyed a spicy plate of Indian food, you are already reaping some powerful brain health benefits of curcumin without even knowing it. There is substantial evidence that curcumin – the main bioactive compound in the spice turmeric – can act to promote brain health from the effects of stress and depression, aging, and Alzheimer’s. Turmeric is what gives curry its bright yellow color, and the curcumin it contains acts like nutritional “gold” for your health.
Curcumin is naturally antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial, a powerful anti-oxidant, and works as a potent anti-inflammatory. Depression may be caused by chronic inflammation, and curcumin works to fight depression because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation can also shut down the production of energy in brain cells, slowing down neurons and causing mental fatigue. When brain cells lack energy, it can lead to depression, anxiety, memory loss, ADHD, brain fog, and Alzheimer’s.
Another way curcumin helps battle depression is by increasing dopamine and serotonin, two crucial neurotransmitters linked to depression. One study shows that curcumin was as effective in treating depression as the SSRI Prozac. Another study showed that curcumin was effective at normalizing cortisol, adrenal gland function, and behavior in rats under stress. Unlike many substances, curcumin can be safely combined with other medications for depression and mood to enhance their effectiveness.
Curcumin can be a powerful brain health supplement because it can cross the blood-brain barrier and fight free radical damage. It also increases blood flow to the brain and can help improve concentration and memory. One study found that supplementing with curcumin helped improve blood flow as well as exercise does. It can also increase neuroplasticity, and help your brain grow and adapt throughout your lifespan. Curcumin increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which stimulates the production of new cells and helps your brain function at its best.
It is well known how essential DHA is for the brain, and specific mental and neurological health disorders like Alzheimer’s, depression, and anxiety are linked to a deficiency in DHA. One study showed that curcumin increases the bioavailability of the omega-3 essential fatty acid DHA, which acts as a building block of the brain. Curcumin also enhances the synthesis of DHA to help elevate its level.
People of all ages who want to decrease their chances of developing Alzheimer’s can benefit from supplementing with curcumin. Populations who regularly consume turmeric, like those in India, have much lower rates of Alzheimer’s than other places in the world. In fact, a senior who resides in the U.S. has a 4.4 times greater risk of developing the disease than seniors in India. Researchers think that curcumin helps break up the plaques found in Alzheimer’s patient brains. It also helps reduce oxidative stress, inflammation, and metal toxicity which all can play a role in the disease.
If you’d like to start supplementing with turmeric, remember that it is not water soluble, so its best taken along with healthy oils whenever possible. Piperine is the main bioactive ingredient in black pepper, and it can increase the absorption of curcumin by as much as 2,000%. You can also enhance curcumin absorption into your body by using fresh turmeric root instead of powder. If you’d rather not add this flavorful spice to your regular diet, don’t worry. In addition to turmeric, there are curcumin supplements available for a more concentrated dose. Using curcumin alongside a nutritious diet and active lifestyle will maximize the potential brain health benefits.