SCIENTISTS have revealed that eating curry at least once a week may help ward off dementia.
The study shows that a spice commonly used in the dish boosts brain power and protects against memory loss in old age.
Curcumin, the key chemical in turmeric used in everything from mild Kormas to the hottest Vindaloos, is believed to delay or prevent dementia symptoms.
A study of middle aged and elderly people found those who popped a capsule of the stuff three times a day had better memories than those given a dummy pill.
It adds to evidence that older people living in cultures where curry is a staple have better cognitive function and a lower prevalence of dementia.
The yellow spice turmeric was identified as the most probable reason for this – thanks to curcumin.
The year long trial published in the British Journal of Nutrition found evidence curcumin blocks rogue proteins called beta amyloid which clumps together and destroys neurons.
In the study 96 participants aged between 40 and 90 were given either a daily placebo or 1,500 mg of curcumin for 12 months.
In tests of verbal and memory skills, those taking the dummy pill suffered a decline in mental function after just six months that was not observed in those having the curcumin.
Dr Stephanie Rainey-Smith, of Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia, said: ‘Curcumin therapy in animals has produced positive cognitive and behavioural outcomes; results of human trials, however, have been inconsistent.
‘In this study, we report the results of a 12-month, randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind study that investigated the ability of a curcumin formulation to prevent cognitive decline in a population of community-dwelling older adults.’
She added: ‘Our findings suggest that further longitudinal assessment is required to investigate changes in cognitive outcome measures, ideally in conjunction with biological markers of neurodegeneration.’
About half of the participants ingested a 500mg curcumin capsule three times a day after meals with water. The placebo group took a placebo capsule at the same times.
The study is among a plethora of new research giving hope to how medicinal foods, if not drugs, may be the answer to taming this debilitating disease.
But one of the issues with curcumin is poor intestinal absorption.
Seeking to overcome these limitations, food ingredient formulators have begun to employ a variety of approaches to enhance this.
Professor Alf Lindberg, scientific director at Cambridge Nutraceuticals, said: ‘It is well known curcumin is poorly absorbed in the gut.
‘In our newly developed supplement FutureYou Mind+, we combine the curcumin with soy lecithin in order to prevent it being destroyed in the stomach.
‘This allows curcumin to pass through to the intestine where it is absorbed and distributed around the body.’
The unique supplement combines easily absorbed curcumin from turmeric and omega 3, the brain boosting fat found in oily fish, which contributes to normal mental function.
Dr Laura Phipps, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘While there has been some early stage research into the effects of curcumin on brain health, there is currently no conclusive evidence it could prevent or treat dementia in people.
‘Some studies have produced limited evidence very high doses of curcumin- much higher than might be normally found in foods like curry – could have some impact on memory and thinking skills, but large-scale clinical trials will be required before researchers can fully assess any potential benefits.
‘The best current evidence suggests that not smoking, staying mentally and physically active, eating a balanced diet, keeping high blood pressure and cholesterol in check, and only drinking within recommended limits can all help to maintain a healthy brain as we age.’