A Gram of Turmeric a Day to Keep Dementia At Bay?

The holiday season often triggers an avalanche of articles outlining everything that’s bad about food, so the following nutrition news may come as a welcome change of pace: A study from Taiwan has found that the spice turmeric may help improve the memory of people in the very early stages of diabetes.

Cognitive difficulties are known to be associated with prediabetes (a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetes), and dementia is a potential complication of diabetes. Three to six percent of turmeric, a yellow spice used widely in Asia, is composed of the compound curcumin, which has been found in studies to reduce the risk of dementia.


To determine whether turmeric can help combat mental difficulties related to these conditions, researchers recruited 48 people aged 60 or older with newly diagnosed, untreated prediabetes. The participants were randomly assigned to eat a bland breakfast of white bread along with either a placebo (inactive treatment), one gram of turmeric, two grams of cinnamon (another spice that has been found to have beneficial effects in diabetes), or both. Each person’s memory was tested before breakfast and again six hours after eating.

The researchers found that after the breakfast with turmeric — but not the breakfast with placebo or cinnamon — the subjects’ working memory (a part of short-term memory “necessary for staying focused on a task, blocking out distractions, and keeping you updated and aware of what’s going on around you”) improved from 2.6 to 2.9 out of 3.0 over the course of the study period.

“Working memory is widely thought to be one of the most important mental faculties, critical for cognitive abilities such as planning, problem solving and reasoning,” noted researcher Mark Wahlqvist, MD, PhD. “Assessment of working memory is simple and convenient, but it is also very useful in the appraisal of cognition and in predicting future impairment and dementia.”

For more information, read the article “Spice up your memory” or see the study’s abstract in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. For more tips on boosting your brain function, see the article “Memory Fitness: How to Get It, How to Keep It,” by memory expert Cynthia Green, PhD.

And to try some dishes that include turmeric, see the following recipes:

Moroccan lemon chicken with olives
South African yellow rice with raisins
Wild rice soup