Curcumin is a flavonoid known for being a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. It is the active component of turmeric (Curcuma longa), a medicinal herb and spice widely used to make Indian curry.
Due to its numerous health benefits, curcumin can now be found in various health supplements. Curcumin supplements are believed to help with the management of various symptoms, such as those of anxiety, depression and other chronic conditions like osteoarthritis.
In a recent study, researchers at Swinburne University in Australia investigated the effects of a highly bioavailable curcumin extract on the working memory, fatigue and stress levels of older adults. The supplement, which contained 80 mg of curcumin, was taken by the participants daily for a period of 12 weeks.
The researchers reported their findings in an article published in the journal Current Developments in Nutrition. (Related: Evidence-backed reasons to begin supplementing with curcumin.)
The effects of curcumin on mood and cognitive function
In their previous study, the researchers assessed the benefits offered by the same curcumin supplement — administered for four weeks — in Australian adults aged 50 to 80. Curcumin isolated from the root of turmeric has poor bioavailability, meaning it is not easily absorbed by the body. In order to improve its absorbability, curcumin is usually combined with piperine from black pepper.
In contrast, the highly available curcumin extract used in both studies was made with patented technology that enables uptake of free curcumin into the bloodstream and target tissues. The technology also allows free curcumin to pass through the blood-brain barrier — a semi-permeable border made up of cells that protects the brain from harmful substances in the blood. As a result, curcumin was able to exert a direct influence on certain areas of the brain.
After four weeks of supplementation, the researchers reported that curcumin improved the working memory of the participants and reduced their fatigue and stress reactivity. To determine if supplementation for an extended period also offered the same benefits, they conducted a follow-up study using the same supplement and a matching placebo. This time, they administered the curcumin supplement to eighty participants daily for 12 weeks.
The researchers assessed outcomes on the fourth and 12th week of supplementation. The outcome measure they considered was cognitive performance with special focus on memory processes relevant to hippocampal function. They also asked the participants to undergo neuroimaging and measured their mood, cardiovascular function and blood biomarkers.
The researchers reported that, compared with the placebo, the participants that received curcumin showed a number of improvements. These included better working memory performance after 12 weeks, as determined by Serial Threes, Serial Sevens and their performance on a virtual Morris Water Maze. Curcumin also improved their performance on a pattern separation task, which measured how well they could transform highly similar sensory inputs into distinct, dissimilar representations. Pattern separation is believed to be used in episodic memory.
The researchers also reported that curcumin significantly lowered the fatigue scores of older adults, as evidenced by their Profile of Mood States (POMS) scores on the fourth and 12th week of supplementation. On the other hand, curcumin was only able to reduce their tension, anger, confusion and total mood disturbance on the fourth week. Blood biomarker levels did not differ between the curcumin and the placebo group.
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that taking highly bioavailable curcumin supplements can improve aspects of mood and working memory in healthy older adults. They also noted that “[the] pattern of results is consistent with improvements in hippocampal function and may hold promise for alleviating cognitive decline in some populations.”
Learn more about how curcumin benefits the mind and body at Curcumin.news.