Curcumin, a component of the spice, has been shown to bind to amyloid plaques, which along with neurofibrillary tangles are thought to be the underlying cause of the disease's symptoms.
Professor Murali Doraiswamy, of Duke University Medical Centre, Carolina, said: ‘There is very solid evidence that curcumin binds to plaques, and basic research on animals engineered to produce human amyloid plaques has shown benefits.
‘If you feed these rats a curcumin-rich diet it dissolves the plaques, and the same diet prevented younger mice from forming the plaques.'
A new PET (positron emission tomography) scan is also being developed which will allow detection of plaques in the living brain, as well as one which detects both plaques and tangles. Currently, a definitive diagnosis can only be made after the patient has died.
A clinical trial is now underway to test the spice's effect in humans. Studies have already shown that populations that consume a curry meal two or three times a week have a significantly lower risk of dementia than those who do not.
Prof. Doraiswamy added: ‘If you are eating fatty burgers and smoking then don't expect an occasional curry to counterbalance a poor lifestyle. However, if you have a good diet and take plenty of exercise, eating a curry regularly could help prevent dementia.'
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Liverpool last week.
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