Curcumin, the pigment responsible for turmeric’s yellow color, helps immune cells clear out the plaque build-up that is thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, reports a study in the November 2006 Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
Alzheimer's disease patients have defects in phagocytosis, the process immune cells use to reduce amyloid-beta, plaque deposits in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimer's patients also have defects in their body’s ability to clear amyloid-beta plaques. In animal experiments, curcumin enhanced brain clearance of amyloid-beta. Thus, in the current study, researchers at UCLA Medical Center and the Greater LA VA Medical Center treated immune cells (macrophages) from six Alzheimer’s patients and three controls with curcumin in vitro and measured amyloid-beta uptake.
At baseline, the intensity of amyloid-beta uptake by the macrophages from Alzheimer’s patients was significantly lower in comparison to control macrophages. After treatment of macrophages with the curcumin compound, amyloid-beta uptake by macrophages from three of the six Alzheimer’s patients was significantly increased.
The age of the patient and the stage of the Alzheimer's disease appeared to influence the effectiveness of curcumin. The most benefit occurred in the cells from younger patients and patients with early-stage Alzheimer's. The curcumin appeared to have no effect on the macrophages from the healthy controls.
The researchers concluded, “Immunomodulation of the innate immune system by curcuminoids might be a safe approach to immune clearance of amyloidosis in the Alzheimer’s disease brain.”
Zhang L, Fiala M, Cashman J, Sayre J, Espinosa A, Mahanian M, Zaghi J, Badmaev V, Graves MC, Bernard G, Rosenthal M. Curcuminoids enhance amyloid-beta uptake by macrophages of Alzheimer's disease patients. J Alzheimers Dis. 2006 Nov;10(1):1-7.