Research & Education

Curcumin and Cognitive Function

Curcumin is a polyphenolic compound derived from the dried rhizome of Curcuma Longa, also known as turmeric. Curcumin has been traditionally used as a remedy for various ailments in India and China and is now recognized by modern medicine to hold a variety of clinically relevant benefits due to its potential help for neuronal health, inflammatory response, and oxidative stress. Research is investigating the potential impact of curcumin on cognitive health.  

Systematic reviews state curcumin may improve memory performance in older adults and cognitive function in healthy and compromised populations. Human and animal studies suggest that experimental groups taking curcumin exhibited beneficial changes to overall brain health, including neuronal health and total amyloid aggregation.  

The clinically relevant benefits of curcumin are limited by its poor bioavailability and efficacy unless consumed daily and in large quantities. Several methods have increased bioavailability in supplemental forms, such as liposomal encapsulations, nanoparticles, or co-administration with other compounds. 

One systematic review and meta-analysis (n = 139) determined that curcumin supplementation may help to increase serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) through increased cyclic adenosine monophosphate levels and activated cellular signal transduction pathways. Low BDNF levels are associated with neurological disorders. In contrast, elevated BDNF levels can assist in neurogenesis, synaptogenesis, neuroprotection, neurodegeneration, synaptic plasticity, and neuronal survival and growth, and in the formation, retention, and recall of memory in the frontal cortex and hippocampus.  

A double-blind, placebo-controlled, 18-month clinical trial (n = 40) administered 90 mg of bioavailable curcumin twice daily or a placebo to adults without dementia. The adults receiving curcumin displayed significant memory and attention benefits due to decreased amyloid and tau accumulation in the amygdala and hypothalamus of the brain. Researchers concluded that curcumin supplementation may improve memory performance over 18 months in middle-aged adults without dementia. A systematic review of pre-clinical and clinical studies revealed the potential benefit of curcumin supplementation on cognition for those with Alzheimer’s disease, too.   

Another double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study (n = 18) administered 80 mg of curcumin supplementation or a placebo for 12 weeks to healthy older adults ages 50 to 80 years. Compared to the placebo, the curcumin group displayed decreased tension, anger, confusion, and total mood disturbance at week 4, decreased fatigue scores at weeks 4 and 12, and improved working memory performance at week 12. The findings were consistent with a prior study (n = 60) reporting that 4 weeks of curcumin supplementation (80 mg per day) improved working memory and reduced fatigue and stress in a healthy older cohort. 

Curcumin holds potential benefits for neuronal health, inflammatory response, and oxidative stress that may benefit cognitive health. The exact method for curcumin to influence neuronal activity on signaling pathways requires further investigation. 

By Danielle Moyer, MS, CNS, LDN