A recent article in the Daily Mail Newspaper (26/09/2014) suggested that 'Eating a Curry a Day Helps Beat Dementia' which was too good a claim not to be investigated further.
Turmeric is an interesting herb. A member of the Ginger family, it is widely used in Indian cooking and Ayurvedic medicine and is used in many supplements. It contains a number of compounds that are known to be bio-active and are currently under intense investigation in the hope that they will be found to be useful for health.
In fact, the study in question, 'Aromatic-turmerone induces neural stem cell proliferation in vitro and in vivo' does not in any way suggest that eating curry or turmeric can help Alzheimer's Disease. It is a dense paper dealing with the effects of direct injection of turmerone into the brain of rats and the same compound when applied to cell cultures. In the study, the compound was found to increase the growth of neural stem cells (cells which can develop into a number of nerve and associated cells) and, importantly, to accelerate their development into neurons (nerve cells).
Although Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative disease in which nerve cells die or fail to function, there is no reason to believe that this observed property of turmerone might make any difference as generalised cell proliferation would be unhelpful (it is specific cells that are damaged) and may even be harmful (there is a potential for increased tumour growth). What this study has however revealed is a very promising research tool that might one day be useful in developing better treatments for Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative illnesses.
There is some evidence that Curcumin, another compound in Turmeric might help heal spinal cord injuries when applied directly to them, though artificially induced localised spinal cord trauma in rats is a very different condition from Alzheimer's disease.
So should we all take Turmeric?
Oral formulations of Turmeric are well absorbed but are largely converted by the liver into forms which cannot pass into the brain. This can be improved with some specialised compounds being added to the Turmeric and by taking it on an empty stomach but it seems most unlikely that Turmeric either as part of a curry or as a supplement will achieve useful levels in the brain. At present it seems that any therapeutic use of Turmeric will require it to be injected.
To date there have been no full-scale trials of Turmeric in any form of Dementia and other studies are conflicting, some suggesting improvements in cholesterol, others suggesting deterioration.
Turmeric is used in very large amounts in Indian cooking and Curcumin has been assessed as a safe product by the FDA in America and the European Food Safety Commission so if you like a rich flavour to your curry or eggs then add lots of Turmeric, but don't anticipate any other health benefits. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the use of Turmeric as a supplement, either in the treatment or prevention of any disease to date (Sept 2014)
Turmeric: Steven Jackson