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Curcumin for Mild Cognitive Dysfunction: A Natural Alternative for Symptom Relief

Updated on February 8, 2023

  • Although mild cognitive dysfunction can arise from a broad variety of health conditions, as well as certain medications, there are few conventional therapies available to alleviate it.
  • As researchers have expanded beyond mainstream medicine, they have discovered that curcumin supplementation could significantly benefit cognitive function via its antioxidant properties and ability to support the body’s natural inflammatory response.
  • Although research on curcumin supplements has been hampered by variable and often poor bioavailability, new products designed to optimize bioavailability can produce better and more consistent results.

Brain fog: whether you’re experiencing it yourself or interacting with someone who is, it can be a frightening symptom. More formally known as mild cognitive dysfunction or mild cognitive impairment, brain fog is characterized by forgetfulness, trouble focusing, mental fatigue, sudden mind blanks, difficulty finding the right words when communicating, and a tendency toward “spacing out.” Additionally, brain fog is associated as a side effect of certain prescription medications.

Although mild cognitive dysfunction itself remains poorly understood within the research community, studies show it is associated with aging, stress, limited metabolic function, declines in neural plasticity, inflammation, and oxidative stress. Due to the latter two associations, some scientists have hypothesized that natural supplements with antioxidant properties, like curcumin, might benefit patients who experience brain fog. So far, although the evidence from the few clinical studies that have been conducted is inconclusive, promising research in animal models suggests that larger, more comprehensive clinical trials are warranted in the future.

Recent Mechanistic Evidence for a Relationship Between Curcumin and Mild Cognitive Dysfunction

When justifying the use of a natural alternative therapy like curcumin for mild cognitive dysfunction, it can be helpful to have mechanistic evidence supporting a relationship through which the supplement might modulate symptoms. In 2017, a breakthrough study in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity provided just that. Researchers in Romania conducted an experiment in rat models and found that curcumin could reverse mild cognitive dysfunction by reducing oxidative stress in the brain and downregulating a specific cellular signaling pathway: the ERK 1/2 / NF-kB signaling pathway, which is involved in the inflammatory response.

For this study, the researchers simulated cognitive dysfunction by giving the rats diazepam, a drug that is known to have comparable effects on the brain. After 28 days of curcumin administration (150 mg per kg of body weight), they measured the impact on the rat models through a combination of behavioral and biochemical tests. The rats treated with curcumin performed significantly better on a maze test that examines spontaneous alternation behavior, which is commonly used in the field as a measure of spatial learning and working memory. Additionally, biochemical studies showed that biomarkers of oxidative stress were lower in both the blood and the hippocampus (a part of the brain associated with memory) and that the ERK 1/2 / NF-kB signaling pathway was downregulated in both the hippocampus and the frontal lobe of the brain. These findings suggest that curcumin supplementation has anti-oxidation properties that support the body’s natural inflammatory response, and these processes were mediating the observed reductions in behavioral symptoms of mild cognitive dysfunction.

Curcumin for Drug-Induced Mild Cognitive Dysfunction: More Evidence from Rat Models

A similar study from 2010 highlighted the potential benefits of curcumin supplementation using rat models. However, this study focused on the potential benefits for patients who experience mild cognitive dysfunction because they use prescription medications that are commonly used to address epilepsy. Research indicates that the brain fog experienced by these patients could be the result of oxidative damage caused by the free radicals generated by these drugs in the brain. Therefore, an antioxidant supplement like curcumin could be a viable intervention option.

For the 21-day study period, the researchers treated half of the rats with two well-known anti-epileptic drug and half of the rats with curcumin and the anti-epileptic drugs. Like the Romanian researchers who conducted the above-described study, these researchers also used a maze test to measure spontaneous alternation behaviors, as well as a passive avoidance paradigm to show that curcumin supplementation had a significant positive effect on learning and memory-related behaviors. At the same time, their biochemical tests showed that while the biomarkers in the blood of the rats increased upon therapy with the anti-epileptic drugs, the increase was significantly smaller in the rats that were simultaneously administered curcumin. Therefore, the researchers conclude that curcumin can be a safe and effective side-by-side therapy for patients who are experiencing mild cognitive dysfunction as the result of pharmacological drug therapy.

Future Opportunities for Clinical Studies on Curcumin and Mild Cognitive Dysfunction

Although these in vivo animal studies present exciting evidence supporting the use of curcumin for mild cognitive impairment, the clinical studies on the topic have been characterized as “disappointing” by researchers in the field. According to the most recent systematic review paper, which was conducted by a research group at the University of Rome in 2016, it is not yet possible to draw conclusions from the available evidence. The reviewers acknowledged that both in vitro and in vivo animal studies indicate that curcumin can be effective for patients with mild cognitive impairment, but with only five small-scale clinical studies to analyze—none of which produced particularly strong evidence—their only conclusion is that more research is warranted.

In 2014, a similar systematic review out of the University of Pavia had the same outcome. After examining three published studies and several ongoing clinical trials on using curcumin for mild cognitive dysfunction, the researchers found that the scant data was not enough to draw a conclusion. Importantly, they also suggested that the reasons the data were insufficient was that several of the studies were poorly designed and many involved the use of curcumin formulations with poor bioavailability. Not only do these insights highlight areas for improvement in future research studies, they also indicate that patients and practitioners today should not necessarily take the disappointing results as a sign that solid clinical evidence on the benefits of curcumin supplementation for mild cognitive impairment will never emerge. Rather, their characterization of the data indicates that curcumin supplementation is an appropriate therapy for certain individuals when its effectiveness is assessed through more thorough, rigorous methods. Their conclusions also remind patients who are considering curcumin supplementation that they are likely to see the best results from curcumin supplements that are specifically designed to optimize bioavailability.

Because researchers are still hopeful about the potential for using curcumin supplements to address mild cognitive dysfunction, clinical trials are ongoing. For example, recruitment efforts are currently underway for a clinical study on the potential effects of a curcumin supplement on diagnosed mild cognitive dysfunction in older adults. The premise of this research is that if curcumin has neuroprotective benefits, then it could one day be considered a credible therapeutic option for addressing age-related mild cognitive dysfunction. Patients, practitioners, and researchers alike are looking forward to the results from studies like this one, which could verify the in vitro and in vivo animal studies at the clinical level. It will be exciting to see where the findings lead in the future.

The power of Tesseract supplements lies in enhancing palatability, maximizing bioavailability and absorption, and micro-dosing of multiple nutrients in a single, highly effective capsule. Visit our website for more information about how Tesseract’s products can help support your neurological health.*

Works Cited

Brondino N, Re S, Boldrini A, et al. 2014. The Scientific World Journal. 2014:174282.

Frautschy S, Panizzon KL, Mohler NL. 2014. National Institute on Aging.

Mazzanti G, DiGiacomo S. 2016. Molecules. 21(9):E1243.

Reeta KH, Mehla J, Gupta YK. 2010. European Journal of Pharmacology. 644(1-3):106-12.

Ross AJ, Medow MS, Row PC, Stewart JM. 2013. Clinical Autonomic Research. 23(6):305-11.

Sevastre-Berghian AC, Fagarasan V, Toma VA, et al. 2017. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2017:3037876.

Yelland GW. 2017. Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 32(Suppl 1):90-3.

Al Czap, Founder | Tesseract

Al Czap has more than four decades of professional experience in preventative medicine. He founded Thorne Research in 1984 (sold in 2010) and he published Alternative Medicine Review for 17 years beginning in 1996. AMR was a highly acclaimed, peer-reviewed, and indexed medical journal. Al was the first to recognize the need for hypoallergenic ingredients and to devise methods of manufacture for and delivery of hypoallergenic products to underserved patient populations. His work has greatly impacted those with impaired immune and digestive systems and compromised health due to environmental exposures.

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