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Curry Power: Curry to Cure Alzheimer’s?


COULD THE COMMON, INEXPENSIVE kunyit in curry powder reverse the progress of an age-related mental disorder such as Alzheimer’s?

All the different multi-hued curry powders
All the different multi-hued curry powders and spices

So many superfoods are jostling for attention in the media and on supermarket shelves that we no longer know which is fad and which is fact.  Which foods really benefit us as we grow older? Let’s shake up four of the most popular myths about diets for healthy ageing.

1. Can Curry Cure Alzheimer’s?

Could a common ingredient found in most curries hold the key to preventing or even curing a disease that shatters the lives of millions of older people and their families every year?

Mutton curry, a favourite of Malaysian cuisine
Mutton Curry: a favourite Malaysian cuisine, to be eaten with piping hot rice and some papadams on the side

A new study by researchers at the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine and in Julich, Germany,  found that when aromatic turmerone – a compound found in the spice turmeric (kunyit) – was tested on rats’ neural stem cells, these cells multiplied faster and the production of new nerve cells was accelerated, boosting the brain’s ability to heal itself.

Despite the promising results, all the evidence is based on animal studies and further trials on humans are needed. According to Clare Walton of the Alzhermer’s Society, the few studies that have been done on people have not replicated those promising initial findings. “There is currently no evidence to suggest people should go out and eat more turmeric,” she says. “It doesn’t appear to get into the brain very well. When people eat it, the liver does a very good job of excreting it. It is unclear whether you can even eat enough to get the levels that were seen in the animal studies.”

Chicken curry, another all-time favourite of Malaysians
Chicken Curry, another all-time Malaysian favourite

Far better, Walton claims, is to adopt a Mediterranean diet. Studies show that it can reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia in later life.  It is high in olive oil, fish, nuts, and low in meat, dairy sources of fat, processed carbohydrates and sugar. However, doctors advise against singling out just one of these food types.

2. Does A Drink A Day Keep Dementia And Cavities Away?

While drinking too much alcohol is linked to the development of a form of dementia called Korsakoff syndrome, research suggests low to moderate consumption can actually be preventative.

In published a study in Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology, scientists found that people with mild cognitive impairment who had up to one alcoholic drink a day developed dementia at an 85% slower rate than people with mild cognitive impairment who were teetotalers.

Red wine has long been advocated by experts as the drink of choice for the health conscious. But should we really believe the hype about its supposed power to prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease? A study earlier this year on the wine ingredient resveratrol now suggests the tipple may not hold the secret of why countries such as France have such a low incidence of heart disease.

And now you have reason to drink this healthy drink!
And now you have reason to drink this healthy drink!

Researchers from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine  in Baltimore tested 783 elderly people living in two small towns in Tuscany. The volunteers gave details about their daily diets as well as urine samples for measurement of their resveratrol intake. During the nine years of the study, 268 of the men and women died, 174 developed heart disease and 34 got cancer. But urinary resveratrol was not linked with death risk, heart disease risk or cancer risk. Nor was it associated with any markers of inflammation in the blood, the researchers report in Jama Internal Medicine.

The NHS warns, however, that while resveratrol may not be the magic ingredient for maintaining a healthy heart, red wine may still have elements that could be of benefit.

For example, anyone anxious about the prospect of wearing dentures one day will be comforted by a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. (Read: Not just for the Heart, Read Wine shows promise as a Cavity Fighter).

The research found that the polyphenols, organic chemicals found in grape seed extract and wine, can slow bacterial growth, protecting our teeth from cavities and decay. Interestingly,  green tea has also been found to have similar antimicrobial properties.

3. Too Much Red Meat Is Bad, But Should We Give It Up?

Eating too much red and processed meat has been linked to bowel cancer. The NHS recommends that if you eat more than 90g of it a day you should cut down. However, red meat such as pork, beef and lamb can be a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals.

Beef Curry: Why not cook the red meat in curry and get the best of both worlds?
Beef Curry: Why not cook the red meat in curry and get the best of both worlds?

According to Emma Derbyshire, nutritionist from healthcare providers Simplyhealth, red meat is a particularly rich source of vitamin D – essential for healthy bones and teeth – and iron, a mineral particularly important for women going through the menopause. The latest government National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed evidence of low vitamin D status in 23% of adults aged 19 to 64 years, while 23% of adult women in the same age group had low iron intakes.

4. If Something Contains Antioxidants It’s Healthy, Right?

From blueberries to beetroot, there seems no end to the foods which are rich in antioxidants. But why is it so

Beetroots can 'beet' cancer, it is said
Beetroots can ‘beet’ cancer, it is said

important to include them in your diet, especially as you grow older? Antioxidants can help protect the ageing body from the harmful effects of so-called free radicals – a type of highly reactive molecule which can destroy cell walls and lead to diseases such as cancer.

Blueberries are 'berry'high in antioxidants
Blueberries are ‘berry’ high in antioxidants

Polly Douglas, a nutritional therapist for Nuffield Health, recommends a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and unprocessed foods. Foods which are high in sugars and fats such as dark chocolate are also a source of antioxidants, but too much can lead to diabetes and obesity. Weight is particularly problematic as people grow older, Douglas explains, because of the strain it places on joints. She recommends eating only small amounts of sugary foods, such as chocolate, together with a meal to ensure blood sugar levels remain balanced. Keeping blood sugar levels in check is the key to healthy ageing, she claims. It not only has a huge impact on energy, but also the quality of our sleep and mood.

“It’s getting the right combination of complex carbohydrates, with protein, so that you’ve got a slow release of sugars into the bloodstream,” Douglas explains. “It doesn’t matter if you are two or 102; by having balanced blood sugar levels you will feel better, you will have more energy and therefore it will be easier for you to function and keep going.”red_line

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