More than one scientific study has found that a spice you may have in your kitchen may prevent the breakdown of brain cells that can lead to the most common form of dementia.

What Is Alzheimer's?
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a degenerative brain disease. X-rays of the brains of people with AD show unusual plaque formations (buildups) made up of a protein known as beta amyloid. Medical researchers believe that this plaque disrupts the normal action of brain cells and contributes to the cognitive changes that result in common symptoms of AD, such as memory loss, poor judgment, and confusion.

Curcumin, the yellow pigment that gives the spice turmeric its color, is a known antioxidant (health-promoting agent) that helps protect against inflammation and prevents cell damage. Turmeric is used in both Indian cooking and traditional Ayurvedic medicine. Turmeric is also used as a natural food coloring agent in some commercially prepared foods.

What the Research Suggests
Lower rates of AD among older people in India led researchers to speculate about a connection between the abundance of turmeric in the Indian diet and the low rate of this disease, and studies show that laboratory animals fed a diet rich in curcumin have fewer beta amyloid proteins (which make up the plaque found on the brains of AD patients) in their brain than mice fed a regular diet.

A UCLA study found that turmeric in combination with vitamin D3 may help boost the immune system in such a way as to clear the brain of amyloid beta proteins in some AD patients. These researchers also found that synthetic curcuminoid compounds may be more effective than the natural pigment.

Deep Hues, Powerful Foods?
In addition to turmeric, researchers have also found that blue, purple, and red fruits and vegetables, like blueberries, grapes, and cherries, may help preserve memory function, and offer some protection from the symptoms of AD.  Investigators think that it's the foods' pigments, or colors, that make the foods so beneficial. So to a food scientist, it is not that much of a stretch to think that a spice containing a natural food coloring might also contain substances that help fight disease.

Although more research into the role of food in AD is needed, it's clear that deeply colored fruits and vegetables benefit your health. So eat your colors!


Butterfield DA, Castegna A, Pocernich CB, et al. "Nutritional Approaches to Combat Oxidative Stress in Alzheimer's Disease." Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2002; 13:444-461. Web. 30 March 2013.

Ringman, JM, Frautschy SA, Cole GM, et al. "A Potential Role of the Curry Spice Curcumin in Alzheimer's Disease." Current Alzheimer Research 2005; 2(2):131-136. Web. 30 March 2013.

Champeau, R. "Vitamin D, Curcumin May Help Clear Amyloid Plaques Found in Alzheimer's." UCLA Newsroom. Web. 15 July 2009.

Saljoughian, M. "Curcumin: A Promising Antiamyloidogenic Agent." 19 Aug 2011.