One of the traditional definitions of the word medicine refers to balance. Bringing a body into balance through a variety of means. Understanding that balance is a dynamic, fluid state that requires presence and deep listening to the body to maintain. In the modern world we tend to think of medicine as a way of fixing things, often with intense and invasive processes like pumping the body full of chemicals and performing surgeries. Modern allopathic doctors usually see diseases as isolated processes, focusing on curing specific symptoms without always understanding the entire picture or tending to the whole person. But the ancients understood that the body can heal itself, if it is guided toward a balanced state. Treating only symptoms can cause a doctor and patient to run around in circles, tending to one need in a way that causes another problem that then must be treated, what is usually called side-effects or collateral damage. Caring for the needs of the entire organism in a holistic way is essential to support true health.
Of the many imbalances humans can experience as they age, dementia can be one of the most frustrating. When dementia sets in, we are forced to watch people we love lose their abilities to understand and interact with the world, eventually losing memory of their loved ones and themselves. For the patient herself, dementia is a painful, lonely, and frustrating process wherein ones entire world and sense of self is utterly lost. Conventional medicine just bats at the surface, reducing pain temporarily but barely slowing the degeneration. But while modern medicine may attempt to treat the symptoms of dementia with marginally effective pharmaceutical drugs, other techniques may prove more fruitful.
One plant that has been used by humans for thousands of years to invite balance in the body is turmeric. A hardy rhizome with bright yellow and orange tones, turmeric has been incorporated into the fabric of existence in countries across all of Asia and the Indian subcontinent. An ancient medicine with modern applications, turmeric is proving to scientists what Ayurvedic doctors and other people who work with plants have known for centuries: creating a balanced eco-system within the body can protect it from and slow the progression of disease.
Overall Health Benefits of Turmeric
Turmeric has a wide array of potential health benefits, including reducing inflammation, relieving nausea and stomach pain, supporting the liver, eliminating headaches and clarifying the mind, reducing menstrual cramp pain, reducing depression and anxiety, healing skin conditions, and helping to prevent the development of cancer.
Turmeric has a supremely high anti-oxidant value. This makes it invaluable for protecting the body from free radicals, which are cells with an unpaired electron that are created by dietary and environmental toxins and stress. These free radicals bond with healthy cells and trigger oxidation, speeding up decay and creating conditions that are more favorable for the development of degenerative diseases and cancer.
Turmeric is anti-mutagenic, interfering with the actions of cells that mutate DNA in unhealthy ways. It deactivates the carcinogens in cigarettes, and interferes with the liver process that would otherwise turn environmental toxins into cancer. These factors make turmeric a powerful ally in preventing and fighting cancer and some viruses. Turmeric kills internal yeast and parasites, helping the body maintain healthy digestive function and a beneficial intestinal flora ratio. It is known to be effective in the treatment of arthritis, tendonitis, and bursitis. Turmeric also helps the body fight atherosclerosis by preventing artery hardening. Turmeric is most famous as an anti-inflammatory, inhibiting inflammatory cytokines with its combination of more than two dozen anti-inflammatory constituents. And it boosts the immune system through a variety of stress-reducing and nervous system supporting elements.
All of these health benefits combine to make turmeric uniquely positioned as a valuable tool for preventing and slowing the development of dementia.
Turmeric for Preventing and Healing Dementia
Turmeric supports brain health in a variety of ways. As a potent anti-oxidant, it protects the brain from the oxidative stress that can occur with the presence of free radicals. Turmeric has been shown to reduce the oxidation of proteins and the presence of interleukin-1, a pro-inflammatory cytokine that creates a neuro-inflammatory cascade, leading to neuritic plaque formation in the brain. This plaque formation is known to be one of the leading factors in the development of Alzheimers disease. Halting or even preventing the inflammatory cascade is essential to reducing the severity of dementia. Turmeric reduces the cerebral deregulation that can be caused by bio-metal toxicity. The high levels of curcumin decreases the formation and presence of Beta-amyloid (A) plaques, oligomers, and fibrils, one of the contributing factors to dementia. And turmeric decreases microglia formation and delays the degradation of neurons.
Supplementation with high potency turmeric has been shown to be effective in treating a wide array of deteriorative brain states, including Alzheimers disease, dementia, and traumatic brain injury. Turmeric is especially supportive for healing dementia because of its anti-inflammatory properties. It reduces systemic inflammation, making it less likely that immune cells will attack and deteriorate brain tissue. It can attenuate the inflammatory response of brain microglial cells. Inflammation is one of the key ingredients in the disastrous recipe of Alzheimers disease.
Studies with turmeric have shown that it can be quite effective in helping people with dementia. Supplementing with high-potency turmeric has been shown to improve memory in people with Alzheimers disease. In one study the participants were able to recognize their family members again within a year of treatment.
Up to 90 percent of Alzheimers patients also experience Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia (BPSD). BPSD is caused by an imbalance in the levels of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine, serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and glutamine. Curcumin, one of the active ingredients in turmeric, has been shown to regulate and modulate neurotransmitter levels and modify dysfunction in the neurotransmitters. It also inhibits the Mono-Amine Oxidase (MAO)-A and MAO-B enzymes that decompose dopamine and serotonin. These balancing and inhibiting functions are supportive for anyone with brain chemistry imbalances, including depression, anxiety, and dementia.
In another study on people with BPSD patients exhibited improved behavioral symptoms after turmeric supplementation. Patients in this study were evaluated using both the Neuro-Psychiatric Inventory and by the level of burden they placed on their caregivers. In some cases the score of Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), an evaluation of mental health and acuity, went up considerably.
In nearly all dementia cases clinically observed thus far, turmeric supplementation provided at least some observable benefit for the patients.
Receiving the Benefits of Turmeric
Turmeric is a delicious spice that can be added to many dishes for flavor and color. But in its ground or fresh whole form, turmeric only provides a relatively small amount of the micro-nutrients for which it is famous. As powdered turmeric can sometimes sit on store shelves for months before purchase, the potency of turmeric in this form may be minimal. Eaten daily over the course of a lifetime, ingesting turmeric as a food can help to prevent many diseases of the brain, nervous system, immune system, and digestion. This daily use of turmeric through the entire lifetime is probably one of the main reasons there are so many fewer instances of Alzheimers and other diseases of neural degeneration in India and other Asian countries where this food is consumed daily than in other parts of the world.
But for the most potent effectiveness, and to support healing inflammation and diseases that are already in progress, turmeric supplementation is usually recommended by health care providers. The ground turmeric used to spice foods is delicious, but you would have to eat an extremely large amount to get even a percentage of what a high-quality supplement can provide. It is important to find a whole food, high-potency supplement, as all of the properties of turmeric (and not the curcumin alone) are what provides the full benefit. The curcumin is supported and amplified by the other elements of turmeric, and some of the anti-inflammatory effects come from different micro-nutrients within the plant. Also, turmeric is fat-soluble, so it is important to get a supplement that is either suspended in high-quality cold-pressed oil, or to take it with a meal that contains healthy fats. Lastly, pepperin, one of the active ingredients in black pepper, is essential to support the bio-availability of turmeric: the bodys ability to absorb it is increased a thousand-fold when it is consumed with black pepper.
This is why India and other countries where turmeric is an essential part of daily cuisines have relatively few instances of dementia. The brains of the people eating turmeric-rich diets are protected from inflammation and oxidation simply though their normal diet. Modern medicine is beginning to understand what traditional doctors have known for millennia: health is a question of whole-system balance. Creating a healthy internal environment requires treating the entire person. Diet, exercise, enjoyment of life, and other lifestyle factors play important roles in preserving mental health as we age. And supporting the bodys balance with plant-based, high-potency, whole food supplements can do wonders to preserve health as we age. Turmeric supplementation may provide a supportive alternative to conventional medicine for preventing and slowing the development of dementia, ensuring that we can enjoy our elder years with clearer minds and healthier bodies.
Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology