July 18, 2007

Turmeric compound helps immune system clear Alzheimer's plaques

A report appearing online the week of July 16, 2007 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes the isolation of bisdemethoxycurcumin, the active ingredient of curcuminoids found in turmeric root, which may aid the immune system to clear the peptide amyloid beta from Alzheimer's disease plaques.

Alzheimer's disease is characterized by the brain's accumulation of plaques containing amyloid beta which damage neurons, resulting in cognitive impairment. The findings of previous research suggest that curcumin, derived from turmeric, could help prevent the disease.

Dr Milan Fiala and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles used blood samples from Alzheimer’s disease patients for the current study. The team discovered that bisdemethoxycurcumin cleared amyloid beta by stimulating immune cells known as macrophages. They also identified immune genes involved in the process.

The compound's action against amyloid beta relies on the innate immune system, which is present at birth. “This is one of the first studies which pays attention to what we believe may be the crucial problem in Alzheimer’s disease: a defective immune system," Dr Fiala commented. "The research presents further evidence that curcuminoids may improve the function of the innate immune system of patients with Alzheimer’s disease by helping it clear the brain of amyloid beta -- the waste products that accumulate in the brain of patients with the disease."

"We think that medications based on curcuminoids and on the isolated active ingredient, bisdemethoxycurcumin, may be useful, but more work needs to be done. The natural curcuminoid substance is available in pill form at health food stores but it is not clear yet how much is being absorbed when taken orally or how much active ingredient is available in these supplements. The next step are clinical trials, which are going on at UCLA and elsewhere.”