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Early Diagnosis and Turmeric Use May Help Prevent Alzheimer's Plaque Build-Up

Research shows that amyloid plaques take years to develop in the brain. On the other hand, studies suggest that long-term dietary intake of turmeric is linked with lower rates of Alzheimer's disease. This suggests that if Alzheimer's disease can be diagnosed early, dietary changes could help prevent or delay plaques. For instance, it's possible that a patient could take advantage of turmeric to protect the brain from damage caused by Alzheimer's disease. (iv.93)

This has prompted scientists to look for early diagnostic tools for Alzheimer's disease. At the same time, lab, animal, and clinical studies continue to explore how turmeric works in the brain and how to maximize its benefits. (iv.93)

Genetic Test for Faulty Immune System Genes

A recent discovery could help diagnose Alzheimer's disease with a simple blood test—before the disease even develops. Researchers at the University of California found genetic markers that may help identify people at risk for developing Alzheimer's. These people could be given preventive treatment to delay plaque build-up. Minimizing plaques that destroy neurons could help protect brain function in people at risk for developing the disease. (iv.59)

The study revealed that 94% of Alzheimer's patients tested had dysfunctional genes for producing proteins related to the immune system. These proteins are necessary to effectively get rid of the Aβ plaque-forming peptides that are characteristic of Alzheimer's. Without these proteins the immune system can't properly dispose of amyloid-beta proteins. In the remaining 6% of patients, these genes appeared to be functioning. However, there was still some immune system impairment and they still developed dementia. (iv.59)

Figure IV.14: Curcumin Boosts Phagocytosis in Alzheimer’s PatientsFigure IV.14: Curcumin Boosts Phagocytosis in Alzheimer’s Patients

Figure IV.14: Curcumin Boosts Phagocytosis in Alzheimer’s Patients

Curcumin Could Help Reverse Dysfunctional Genes in Most

Results from the study also suggest that turmeric curcuminoids might be able to counteract this immune system deficiency. Researchers treated blood drawn from the majority group of Alzheimer's patients (labeled Type I) with curcumin. Results showed curcumin stimulated and improved the immune system response. Specifically, curcumin increased gene activity and improved phagocytosis, helping the immune system get rid of toxic Aβ proteins: (iv.59)

However, in the smaller patient group (labeled Type II), curcumin treatment actually suppressed gene activity. This resulted in decreased phagocytosis. (iv.59)

Still, these exciting results mean that an inexpensive blood test could be an early diagnostic tool for Alzheimer's disease for most. By measuring for a declining immune system response, it could identify people at risk for developing the brain damaging disease. (iv.59)

Curcumin Contraindicated in Some

Taking turmeric's powerful polyphenol curcumin might be an effective preventive therapy for these patients. It could help delay development of Alzheimer's for the majority of those identified as at-risk. However, researchers obviously caution that it's important to identify those people who are Type II Alzheimer's patients. In this small group of patients, curcumin treatment may suppress the immune system. (iv.59)

Curcumin Helps Detect Retina Plaques

Can a noninvasive eye scan help detect and diagnose Alzheimer's early enough to treat patients and slow down disease progression? Medical doctors and researchers at Cedars Sinai Medical Center's Departments of Neurosurgery and Neurology think it's a good possibility. With the help of turmeric's curcumin compound, researchers may have found another early diagnostic tool for Alzheimer's. (iv.94)

History of Eye Problems in Alzheimer's Patients was the First Clue

Doctors have known since the 1980s that many patients with Alzheimer's disease also experience vision problems. One of the ways this was discovered was because pathologists noted abnormalities in retinas during autopsies of people who had Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Changes in the retina were also seen in other conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and glaucoma(iv.94)

Later researchers conducted animal studies that specifically modeled Alzheimer's disease. They discovered that plaques were not only detectable in the retinas, but they became more numerous as the disease progressed. (iv.94)

Retinal plaques were also found in patients after death that had been suspected of having Alzheimer's but were not diagnosed because of the disease's early stage. These discoveries suggested retinal plaques develop before brain plaques do in Alzheimer's disease. This meant detecting retinal plaques could be an early diagnostic tool for the disease. The challenge was to find a way of detecting them in living patients during the early stages of Alzheimer's. (iv.94)

Curcumin to the Rescue

In a groundbreaking study on animal models of Alzheimer's disease, the Cedars-Sinai researchers built on what they knew about curcumin to develop a tool to do just that: (iv.94)

  • Curcumin easily crosses into the brain from the blood.
  • It binds to amyloid brain plaques in Alzheimer's patients.

The researchers found that dietary or injected curcumin could also cross into the retina and bind to otherwise undetectable plaques. Using advanced microscopy, the scientists were able to examine the retinas in live animal models of Alzheimer's disease and clearly visualize all the individual plaques. (iv.94)

More importantly, the retinal plaques were detectable months before they developed in the brain. Researchers also successfully tested the technique on a human patient with no symptoms of Alzheimer's disease later found to have diffuse brain plaques. (iv.94)

Given the promise of different therapies such as immunotherapy with curcumin or other agents in slowing down disease progression, early detection of Alzheimer's is a vitally important treatment tool. Curcumin has proven useful in two different, noninvasive diagnostic tests for Alzheimer's disease. This makes turmeric's curcumin compounds a smart choice for further research and clinical implementation. (iv.94)


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