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Curry may combat Alzheimer's

Here you go, grandad, get your laughing gear round this phal

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

US researchers have isolated a compound in turmeric - commonly used in the UK's national dish chicken tikka masala and other more deadly curry concoctions - which "may help stimulate immune system cells that gobble up the brain-clogging proteins that mark Alzheimer's disease", Reuters reports.

Dr Milan Fiala of the University of California Los Angeles and colleagues note in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they'd already shown that curcumin "may affect the brain cells of Alzheimer's patients", but wanted to pinpoint the "precise factor" responsible.

They eventually fingered bisdemethoxycurcumin, and blood samples from Alzheimer's patients demonstrated that it "boosted immune cells called macrophages to clear a protein called amyloid beta, which clogs the brains of Alzheimer's patients and kills brain cells".

But before you set out a platter of steaming phal in front of grandad, note that the researchers are not certain if it's possible to eat enough curcumin to kick off a positive reaction, despite previous studies indicating that robust curry consumption can combat Alzheimer's. They did, however, suggest that "bisdemethoxycurcumin was active at a level that could easily be achieved by infusion".

The team concluded: "Our results may provide an entirely different direction to therapeutic opportunities in Alzheimer's disease through the repair of the functional and transcriptional deficits of Alzheimer's disease macrophages by curcuminoids." ®

Bootnote

Curcumin - the principal curcuminoid (a polyphenolic compound) in turmeric - appears to be a bit of a winner. Researchers have also found that, in rats at least, it can also help prevent the formation of tumours. Oregon State Uni has a detailed analysis of the compound and its possible uses here.

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