Spicy food may hold the key to a potential cure for dementia, according to recent research.

An ingredient which is found in most curries, turmeric, has been highlighted as having potential as a cure for the illness, and other related diseases. Turmerone, a compound that’s found in turmeric, has been found to promote the production of brain stem cells and their subsequent development into neurons.

It has been suggested that these findings could help scientists come up with new treatments for any conditions that arise because of a loss of brain cells, including Alzheimer’s and stroke.

Lead researcher Dr Adele Rueger, from the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Julich, Germany, said:

“While several substances have been described to promote stem cell proliferation in the brain, fewer drugs additionally promote the differentiation of stem cells into neurons, which constitutes a major goal in regenerative medicine.

“Our findings on aromatic turmerone take us one step closer to achieving this goal.

Aromatic turmerone is the lesser-studied of the two major bio-active compounds which are found in turmeric. The second compound, curcumin, is already widely known to be an anti-inflammatory agent and is also thought to have anti-cancer properties.

The scientists looked at how turmerone affected neutral stem cells (NSCs) that were found in adult brains. The stem cells are the cells that become neurons, and so they play an important role in recovery from neurodegenerative diseases. The compound was found to boost the production of NSCs by up to 80 per cent, and also increase their maturation speed.

The findings have been published in the online journal Stem Cell Research & Therapy.

Dr Laura Phipps, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, is cautiously hopeful, but warned that scientists were still a long way from being able to say that turmerone could help fight diseases like Alzheimer’s. She believes that it’s necessary for other studies to be carried out into the compound’s effects in the context of dementia, which is a complex disease. She advised against stocking up on spices as a way of warding off dementia symptoms, and added,

The death of brain cells is a key feature of Alzheimer’s, and investment in research is crucial to understand how this cell death occurs and how to intervene.

“It takes many years for fundamental research such as this to be translated into new treatments, and for the best chance of success we need to see a range of approaches being taken.”

 

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