The health benefits of some spices are still being discovered
Curry ingredient reduces inflammation, is a powerful antioxidant...
A key ingredient in curries could be an important weapon in the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's disease.
Scientists have found that curcumin stops the accumulation of destructive beta amyloids that build up in the brains of sufferers.
Curcumin is the part of turmeric that gives it its distinctive yellow colour. Turmeric has been used in Asian cookery for thousands of years and is one of the cheaper spices.
Ground from the root of a plant of the ginger family, it is found wild in the Himalayas and is grown across south Asia.
Although a regular in spicy dishes such as chicken tikka masala and rogan josh, turmeric powder itself has a subtle, almost bland, taste.
Turmeric has already been found to slow prostate cancer and can be bought in capsules.
It could eventually be used as a drug or supplement to prevent people developing Alzheimer's in much the same way as statins are used to prevent heart attacks.
Doctors agree that amyloid plaques (abnormal build-ups of a protein fragment known as beta amyloids) are responsible for memory loss in Alzheimer's.
The latest study, at the University of California, Los Angeles, used mice.
The results, published in the Journal Of Biological Chemistry, suggest that curcumin would not only prevent the build-up of plaques in patients with the degenerative brain disease, but would block the plaques developing in the first place.
Scientists found that a chemical in the yellow pigment of the spice was responsible for prevention and dispersal of beta amyloid.
The team has started human trials that could eventually lead to the development of a drug.
Doctors believe the low levels of Alzheimer's in India and other curry-eating countries could be due to the effects of curcumin.
The UCLA study found curcumin crossed the blood-brain barrier to eliminate amyloid plaques. It also reduced the build-up of beta amyloid by up to 21 per cent.
In earlier studies, the same research team found curcumin was a powerful antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties, which scientists believe help ease the symptoms of Alzheimer's.
Symptoms include inflammation of brain tissue and damage to cells caused by a process called oxidisation, a release of harmful chemicals that can cause cancer and heart disease.
"Curcumin has been used for thousands of years as a safe anti-inflammatory in Indian traditional medicine," said chief investigator Gregory Cole, a professor of medicine and neurology at UCLA.
"The prospect of finding a safe and effective new approach to both the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's is tremendously exciting