Spice prevents Parkinson’s

Curry is becoming a popular food as Indian and Thai restaurants proliferate like humans during a nuclear winter. One of the favourite ingredients of curries is the spice turmeric used not only for its flavour but also for its rich orange colouring. Both Ayurvedic (Indian) and Traditional Chinese medicine have also used turmeric as a medicine and in recent decades a lot of research has gone on into the healing properties of turmeric. Now a new study has revealed that a component of turmeric can help prevent one of the causative factors of Parkinson’s Disease.

Turmeric is a member of the same plant family to which the familiar ginger belongs. It has a thick rhizome (root) which is the part that is used in the kitchen and medicinally. Turmeric root contains a substance known as curcumin and it is this curcumin which is gaining a reputation as a health promoter. It is an antioxidant but it has a range of specific benefits besides and it has emerged that one of its specific benefits is for the ageing brain.

Parkinson’s Disease occurs when neurons in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra die or become impaired. Normally, these cells produce a chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine allows smooth, coordinated function of your body’s muscles and movement. When approximately 70 per cent of the dopamine-producing cells are damaged, the symptoms of Parkinson disease appear. Curcumin appears to protect those cells against damage.

Over the last year, research has shown that clumping of proteins called “alpha-synuclein” proteins is the first step in diseases like Parlinson’s. Now as a result of trials researchers from Michigan State University have found that curcumin attaches to alpha-synuclein. In so doing it not only stops clumping but also increases the rate at which alpha-synuclein folds, or reconfigures. This increase in the rate of folding makes clumping even more unlikely.

The problem with curcumin is that it doesn’t pass into the brain easily so getting an adequate dosage there will be difficult without doing irreparable damage to your social life by making you smell like a mobile curry franchise. Since curcumin is not easily absorbed from the digestive tract either, complementary medicine practitioners will often advise supplementing with bromelain (an enzyme from pineapple) to assist in absorption.

As a preventative activity however, a good curry containing turmeric will certainly give you some antioxidant activity and it might give your brain a little added protection into the bargain.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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