Turmeric has gained a strong following among healthy foodies because of its impressive flavor and remarkable health-promoting properties. The benefits of turmeric for the brain and emotional health are so robust that neurohackers have begun to refer to turmeric as one of the strongest natural nootropics.
So where did turmeric come from, what exactly is it, and what advantages might come from adding it to your daily nootropic stack?
What Is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a spice native to Asia that comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant, which is part of the ginger family.1 This spice is most well-known around the world for its role as the primary spice in Indian curry dishes, where it provides the distinctive golden color. Curry is a mixture of spices used to flavor many types of foods, including vegetables and meats.
For thousands of years, this spice has held an important role in the traditional Indian medicinal practice known as Ayurveda. In fact, many of the most popular natural nootropics and herbal remedies have a history of use in Ayurvedic medicine.
Nootropic Benefits of Turmeric
Turmeric is one of the most well-studied spices in terms of its benefits for human health. Much of its strength is thought to be from its powerful ability to fight inflammation and oxidative stress.
Many of turmeric’s health benefits can be attributed to a group of compounds found in the root called curcuminoids, with the primary active curcuminoid being curcumin, a polyphenol that gives turmeric its yellow pigment.
Prior to 2011, there were over 3,000 publications on turmeric. Since then, research about turmeric has continued at a rapid pace.2 Many of the studies exploring the nootropic benefits turmeric have been focused on curcumin itself rather than on whole-root turmeric.
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Highlighted below are some of the studies on either turmeric or curcumin that highlights the benefit of this herb on cognition and mood.
Longevity and Parkinson’s Disease
Autophagy is a natural process in the body of animals that appears to promote longevity, with decreased autophagy associated with aging.3 During autophagy, the body destroys its own cells to maintain cellular balance and health, a process known as cellular homeostasis.
Preliminary studies suggest that stimulating autophagy may help mitigate the signs of aging, possibly helping increase lifespan. Based on these preliminary studies, researchers believe that increasing autophagy may help to slow the pathology of Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disease.4
Researchers have found that curcumin promotes autophagy, leading them to hypothesize that curcumin may be useful for enhancing longevity and helping improve quality of life in patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease. However, more studies are required to see how the benefits found in preliminary results present themselves in a human population.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease associated with loss of memory, cognitive skills, and language. It’s the most common form of dementia, and there is no known cure. Researchers continue to learn more about the pathology of AD in the hopes of coming up with treatments to slow disease progression. One target for treatment is something known as beta-amyloid plaques.
Beta-amyloid proteins aggregate together into clumps known as plaques in the brains of individuals with AD, disrupting proper cellular function and communication. They’re also known to cause chronic inflammation which damages brain health and function.
Research suggests that curcumin may reduce the inflammation in the brain of those with AD caused by the aggregation of beta-amyloid proteins. In one study of AD, 27 patients were assigned to either a placebo, one g/day curcumin, or four g/day curcumin group for six months.
Following this period, those in both curcumin groups were found to have experienced a slower rate of cognitive decline when compared to those in the placebo group.5
In an in vitro study, researchers found that turmeric was more powerful than curcumin at inhibiting beta-amyloid aggregation, and thus may be superior when it comes to helping slow the cognitive decline that is associated with AD.6
More studies are needed to confirm the specific benefit turmeric has in AD patients, but these preliminary findings are promising.
Preliminary animal studies on curcumin found that it helps protect the brain from injury. In these studies, curcumin demonstrated neuroprotective abilities, such as its ability to reduce inflammation and protect against oxidative damage.
In a preclinical study, both pre-treatment and post-treatment with curcumin in mice with traumatic brain injury demonstrated improved neurological outcomes while reducing cerebral edema, an excess accumulation of water in the brain following injury.7
These results show promise for this compound in helping protect against brain damage caused by traumatic brain injuries.
Mood, Stress, and Anxiety
In one of these studies, obese adults were given either one g/day curcumin or placebo for 30 days. In comparison to those in the placebo group, the treatment group showed a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms.9
In another study, 56 adults with major depressive disorder (MDD) were assigned to either 1,000 mg/day of curcumin or placebo for eight weeks. Those in the curcumin group experienced a significant improvement in MDD symptoms when compared to the placebo group.10
How To Use Turmeric
There are many ways to consume turmeric or curcumin. You can cook with turmeric, make golden milk lattes (healthy lattes made from milk mixed with a combination of ginger, turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, and honey), or take one of a myriad of supplements.
If you want to get the most out of turmeric-containing foods and drinks, you’ll want to be sure to add another spice to it: black pepper. Turmeric by itself has a low bioavailability of curcumin, meaning the body cannot absorb curcumin very well. Fortunately, nature has found a way around this: piperine, the primary healthy bioactive compound found in black pepper, boosts this bioavailability by 2000 percent.11
When it comes to supplements, there are a number of choices. You can go the straightforward route with turmeric root, which generally comes in a capsule, powdered form, or tincture. Some of these products will have piperine already added in to boost the benefits.
Others products may use alternative strategies to increase how much of the curcumin your body can actually absorb, such as liposomal delivery, which uses the science of liposomes to allow more of the curcumin to be absorbed. As cell membranes are also composed of phospholipids, this type of packaging allows more of the active compounds (curcumin or turmeric) to be absorbed by the body.
You’ll also find straight curcumin products with similar options to boost how well your body can use this compound.
Turmeric vs. Curcumin Supplements
You’re probably wondering, which of these products is the best?
As it stands, there is not a clear answer to this, but there are some studies that have compared turmeric to just curcumin or curcuminoids, and turmeric has come out on top.12
In one of these studies, the complete turmeric root extract was found to exhibit stronger anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immunomodulatory properties than curcumin alone. It’s hypothesized that the other compounds found in the complete extract may explain this higher efficacy.13
Based on these studies, it appears that whole turmeric supplements may be more powerful than curcumin-only products. Be sure to look for products with piperine or liposomal delivery to further enhance bioavailability.
When it comes to optimal brain health and cognitive function, there are few nootropics, natural or synthetic, that can compete with turmeric or its active component, curcumin. Adding a daily turmeric or curcumin supplement can help round-out any nootropic stack with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.
If you’re looking for the best all-natural nootropic for brain health and longevity, turmeric may be just what you’ve been searching for.
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