Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a devastating affliction that slowly robs a person of their memories, leaving the affected person a hollowed out shell of who they used to be. As the disease slowly progresses until its inevitable end, family members that act as caregivers can only watch helplessly while their loved one becomes a selfless, mindless and unreasonable creature. The disease simultaneously takes a toll on the emotions and finances of these primary caregivers that provide them care, love and support.
It’s safe to say that you and everyone you know is touched in one way or another by Alzheimer’s, and its rates are increasing – especially in Westernized countries. What follows are some alarming statistics about the disease:
- The estimated cost of Alzheimer’s is $226 billion in the US in 2015
- 1 in 3 seniors will die from Alzheimer’s (that number is sharply rising)
- Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in America
- Typical life expectancy of Alzheimer’s is 4-8 years after diagnosis
Until recently, scientists didn’t know the cause of AD. It is now thought that beta-amyloid proteins building up in the brain is a primary cause. And, although not 100% proven, more scientists are starting to believe in the beta-amyloid theory. It is believed that beta amyloid proteins accumulate and when the proteins clump, they can cause a build-up which can block cell-to-cell signaling at the synapses. In addition to this, beta-amyloid may cause an inflammatory response of immune cells that could set off a potentially neurotoxic chain-reaction.
HOW IS BETA-AMYLOID GENERATED?
There are multiple theories about how beta-amyloid deposits are created. It is believed that heavy metal accumulation from diet could be one factor. That being said, chelation therapy (heavy metal removal) has been shown to be beneficial in reducing these damaging deposits. Another factor of beta-amyloid accumulation is through the process of “sleep-debt”, or prolonged sleep deprivation. Both factors have been linked to increased rates of Alzheimer’s disease.
On the other hand, Melatonin, a brain “sleep-inducing” hormone, has been linked to the reduction of beta-amyloid accumulation. The hormone acts to regulate the circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) and is known to be a potent brain antioxidant. Orexin, another chemical in the brain, is a wakefulness neurotransmitter, and it is the target of wakefulness nootropics such as Modafinil and Adrafinil. It has been proven that injections of Orexin increase the levels of beta-amyloid, which might be a concern for people who use Modafinil or Adrafinil as a wakefulness promoter.
CURCUMIN – THE SUSPECTED ACTIVE INGREDIENT OF TURMERIC
Turmeric is a yellow-colored Indian spice that has recently shown to be related to the reduction of Alzheimer’s disease. The substance Curcumin within Turmeric is what gives the spice its yellow appearance, and the substance has been used for quite some time as an anti-inflammatory agent in ancient Indian and Asian medicine. Furthermore, what’s really notable pertaining to AD is that incidences of the disease in India and Asia, where turmeric is rich in the Indian diet, correlate with lower rates of the disease in the general population.
By the same token, Curcumin, an ingredient in this spice, is believed to be the main active ingredient within Turmeric that has suggested health benefits. Curcumin is believed to make up anywhere from 5-10% of the spice. Recently, the spotlight has been put on curcumin as a possible prevention (or cure) for AD. Proponents state that it has several mechanisms believed to help in the reduction of Alzheimer’s symptoms, citing that it has been shown to decease beta-amyloid deposits. This mechanism may be direct through the binding of curcumin molecules to beta-amyloid itself or indirectly through binding to beta-amyloid aggregators which create an environment for beta-amyloid to flourish.
Curcumin/turmeric may have secondary mechanisms in the prevention of Alzheimer’s unrelated to beta-amyloid reduction/depletion, however. For instance, the curcuminoid is thought to help reduce inflammation, another likely suspect in Alzheimer’s progression. Curcumin may have neuro-protective qualities by reduction of heavy metal accumulation in brain (chelation). It is also a potent brain anti-oxidant that may reduce free radicals in the brain – another hypothesis reported to be the cause of Alzheimer’s.
CURCUMIN – ABSORPTION VS. BIOAVAILABILITY
Curcumin has poor bio-availability and absorption. It is important to know the difference between bioavailability and absorption, as the two are not the same. Absorption relates to the substance’s ability to absorb into the bloodstream, whereas, bioavailability is the degree and rate of which the substance enters the brain. Problems with curcumin entering the brain are two-fold. To illustrate, the ability for it to cross and enter the bloodstream (absorption) is problematic, and the ability to enter in the brain through the blood-brain-barrier (bioavailability) is an issue, as well.
Increasing the absorption rate of curcumin is fairly easy. Taking curcumin with a fat source will create a higher rate of absorption of the lipophilic compound. Most people take it with a fat source to help curcumin absorb easier into the intestinal wall. Taking them with a fat source such as coconut oil, high-fat milk, flax/fish oil is recommended when taking either curcumin or turmeric powder.
What is more, increasing curcumin bioavailability has been a source of intense research. As a result, some companies have created modified versions of curcumin such as the novel patented Theracurmin, which is essentially a unique preparation of turmeric. Theracurmin is technologically modified to be 100 times smaller than curcumin itself, and it is modified thusly to increase bioavailability through the blood-brain-barrier. Other companies are likewise studying various methods of increasing curcumin bioavailability.
One of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to increase the bioavailability of curcumin is to take it with piperine – A constituent of black pepper. Piperine is a known inhibitor of glucuronidation, which breaks down certain substances in the gut and liver. Healthy human volunteers who took curcumin and piperine together saw an increase of 2000% bioavailability. They also saw a decrease in the elimination half-life of curcumin, meaning the substance stayed in the body longer. This evidence suggests that taking curcumin and black pepper together is an efficient and affordable method of delivery to transport and introduce the substance into the brain.
WHY TURMERIC OVER CURCUMIN POWDER?
You can buy both turmeric and curcumin powder; however, there is evidence that the former may be superior over the latter. Turmeric only carries 5-10% curcumin, whereas, curcumin extracted powder contains up to 95% curcumin. Regardless of this fact, there may be multiple mechanisms at play and curcumin itself may not be sufficient enough in itself. Some natural substances are more effective than their synthetically produced and isolated counterparts, as seen in the case of CBD oil, also.
Also, there is some continuing debate as to other medicinal benefits of turmeric. Other alkaloids and curcuminoids in turmeric such as desmethoxycurcumin are being investigated for co-current or cumulative health benefits. The reason for this being that curcumin may not be effective on its own and may rely on the synergy of other substances in the spice to deliver its benefits.
SAFETY OF CURCUMIN
Curcumin and turmeric are natural substances. It has been deemed safe in high doses and is even being investigated for multiple treatments including cancer treatment and as a chemotherapy aid. In fact, both have been used in high dosages for thousands of years in ancient medicine.
It is also important to note that curcumin and turmeric may induce rare side effects including allergic reactions in some people; therefore, it is recommended to test your tolerance and reaction by using small dosages first. Using piperine can additionally cause interactions with other medications so be very careful when using piperine to ensure sure that there are no harmful drug interactions.
The jury is still out on turmeric regarding whether it conclusively provides a host of wide-ranging health benefits; however, it is important to note it has not yet been approved by the FDA as treatments for any disease (and is unlikely to be without the funding of “big pharma”). Most doctors will allow the concurrent use of turmeric with your medicine regime, and it has been proven to be well tolerated in studies.
Turmeric looks VERY promising at treating many diseases, but researchers don’t yet know if it is 100% effective against all of them. Still, there is an overwhelming body of evidence that suggests this is so. If one can get past absorption and bioavailability issues of curcumin, this substance may be very beneficial to add to your typical brain-health stack regime. It is also cheap and affordable to use tumeric + black pepper every day, as these two spices are freely available for a good price.