Editor's Note: A double-blind placebo-controlled trial examined the effects of a bioavailable form of curcumin on memory performance in people without dementia. Pre- and post-treatment evaluation suggested behavioral and cognitive benefits are associated with decreases in plaque and tangle accumulation in brain regions modulating mood and memory.

American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
October 27, 2017

Because curcumin's anti-inflammatory properties may protect the brain from neurodegeneration, we studied its effect on memory in non-demented adults and explored its impact on brain amyloid and tau accumulation using 2-(1-{6-[(2-[F-18]fluoroethyl)(methyl)amino]-2-naphthyl}ethylidene)malononitrile positron emission tomography (FDDNP-PET).

Forty subjects (age 51-84 years) were randomized to a bioavailable form of curcumin (Theracurmin® containing 90 mg of curcumin twice daily [N=21] or placebo [N=19] for 18 months. Primary outcomes were verbal (Buschke Selective Reminding Test [SRT]) and visual (Brief Visual Memory Test-Revised [BVMT-R]) memory, and attention (Trail Making A) was a secondary outcome. FDDNP-PET signals (15 curcumin, 15 placebo) were determined in amygdala, hypothalamus, medial and lateral temporal, posterior cingulate, parietal, frontal, and motor (reference) regions. Mixed effects general linear models controlling for age and education, and effect sizes (ES; Cohen's d) were estimated.

SRT consistent long-term retrieval improved with curcumin (ES=0.63, p=0.002) but not with placebo (ES = 0.006, p= 0.8; between group: ES =0.68, p=0.05). Curcumin also improved SRT total (ES = 0.53, p=0.002), visual memory (BVMT-R Recall: ES = 0.50, p= 0.01; BVMT-R Delay: ES = 0.51, p = 0.006), and attention (ES=0.96, p <0.0001) compared with placebo (ES = 0.28, p = 0.1; between-group: ES=0.67, p=0.04). FDDNP binding decreased significantly in the amygdala with curcumin (ES= -0.41, p=0.04 compared with placebo (ES = 0.08, p=0.6; between-group: ES=0.48, p= 0.07). In the hypothalamus, FDDNP binding did not change with curcumin (ES= -0.30, p=0.2), but increased with placebo (ES = 0.26, p=0.05; between group: EX= 0.55, p= 0.02.

Daily oral Theracurmin may lead to improved memory and attention in non-demented adults. The FDDNP-PET findings suggest that symptom benefits are associated with decreases in amyloid and tau accumulation in brain regions modulating mood and memory.

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