Can a Simple Spice Improve Your Memory?

New research offers hope to older adults.

Posted Apr 13, 2018

Diane Dreher photo
Source: Diane Dreher photo

Have you ever misplaced your keys or walked into a room, then forgotten what you went in there for? Perhaps, like many Americans over forty, you’ve started worrying about your memory.

Common memory lapses like these may only mean that we are distracted, stressed, or have too much on our minds. But many of us still worry about mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and the threat of Alzheimer’s disease.

Studies have shown that a life of chronic stress can lead to persistent inflammation, which has been linked to memory lapses as well as arthritis, depression, and many autoimmune disorders (Arnsten, 2009; Cerqueira, 2007; Numan, 1978; see Goleman & Davidson, 2017).

Now recent UCLA research offers a new source of hope—curcumin, the Indian herb used in curry, derived from turmeric, which is known for its anti-inflammatory effects. My friends from India tell me that turmeric is a traditional remedy in their country, often used as a medicine to help heal cuts and scrapes. Epidemiological studies reveal a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in people who regularly consume curry (Ng et al, 2006), indicating that this herb may also offer neuroprotective benefits, helping our brains stay healthy.

In their experimental research published last month, Dr. Gary Small of UCLA’s Semel Institute and his colleagues conducted a long-term double-blind placebo controlled trial with 40 participants randomly assigned. For 18 months, the experimental group took 90 milligrams of curcumin twice a day and the controls took a placebo.

Their small pilot study suggests that regular use of curcumin may have multiple benefits in our lives. Results showed significant improvements in memory and attention as well as significantly lower levels of depression in those taking the curcumin. This simple, nontoxic, and relatively inexpensive herb may improve age-related memory decline and prevent the neurodegenerative progression of Alzheimer’s as well as helping to alleviate depression.

Definitely something to think about.


Arnsten, A. F. T. (2009). Stress signaling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10, 410-422.

Cerqueira, J. J., Mailliet, F., Almeida, O. F. X., Jay, T. M., & Sousa, N. (2007). The prefrontal cortex as a key target of the maladaptive response to stress. The Journal of Neuroscience, 27, 2781-2787.

Goleman, D. & Davidson, R. J. (2017). Altered Traits: Science reveals how meditation changes your mind, brain, and body. New York, NY: Avery. See discussion on page 169.

Ng, T.P., Chiam, P. C., Lee, T. et al. (2006). Curry consumption and cognitive function in the elderly. American Journal of Epidemiology, 164: 898-906.

Numan, R. (1978). Cortical-limbic mechanisms and response control: A theoretical review. Physiological Psychology, 6, 445-470.

Small, G. W., Siddarth, P., Li, Z., Miller, K.J., Ercoli, L., Emerson, N.D., et al. (2018). Memory and brain amyloid and tau effects of bioavailable form of curcumin in non-demented adults: A double-bling, placebo-controlled 18-month trial. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry,26: 266-276.