Preventing Alzheimer's with Turmeric

Image Credit: Marcel Oosterwijk / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Might Turmeric Help Prevent Alzheimer’s?

There are plenty of anti-inflammatory drugs out there that may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, but stomach, liver, and kidney toxicity precludes their widespread use. So, maybe using an anti-inflammatory food like the spice, turmeric, found in curry powder, could offer the benefits without the risks? Before even considering putting it to the test, though, one might ask, “Well, do populations that eat a lot of turmeric have a lower prevalence of dementia?” And indeed, those living in rural India who do just that may actually have the lowest reported prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

In rural Pennsylvania, the incidence rate of Alzheimer’s disease among seniors is 19/1000. Nineteen people in a thousand over age 65 develop Alzheimer’s every year in rural Pennsylvania. In rural India, using the same diagnostic criteria, that same rate is three, confirming they have among the lowest reported Alzheimer’s rates in the world.

Although the lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s in India is generally attributed to the turmeric consumption as a part of curry, and it is assumed that people who use turmeric regularly have a lower incidence of the disease, let’s not just assume. As highlighted in my video, Preventing Alzheimer’s with Turmeric, a thousand people were tested, and those who consumed curry at least occasionally did better on simple cognitive tests than those who didn’t. Those that ate curry often also had only about half the odds of showing cognitive impairment, after adjusting for a wide variety of potential confounding factors. This suggests that curry consumption may indeed be associated with better cognitive performance.

Of course, it probably matters what’s being curried—are we talking chicken masala, or chana masala, with chickpeas instead of chicks? It may be no coincidence that the country with among the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s also has among the lowest rates of meat consumption, with a significant percentage of Indians eating meat-free and egg-free diets.

Studies have suggested for nearly 20 years now that those who eat meat—red meat or white meat—appear between two to three times more likely to become demented compared to vegetarians. And the longer one eats meat-free, the lower the associated risk of dementia, whether or not you like curry.

There’s another spice that may be useful for brain health. See my video Saffron for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s. What about coconut oil? See Does Coconut Oil Cure Alzheimer’s? In terms of preventing cognitive decline in the first place, check out my video How to Slow Brain Aging By Two Years.

I’ve raised the issue of plant-based diets and dementia in Alzheimer’s Disease: Grain Brain or Meathead?

For more on spices and inflammation, see Which Spices Fight Inflammation? and the follow-up, Spicing Up DNA Protection.

What about treating Alzheimer’s disease with the spice turmeric?  That’s the topic of my video, Treating Alzheimer’s with Turmeric.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

51 responses to “Might Turmeric Help Prevent Alzheimer’s?

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  1. Shaker of healthy spices ? I like the idea of filling an empty pepper pot with some spices, to give a liberal shake on all/most of my meals. Has anyone done this already ?
    Turmeric is the obvious ingredient (beware the yellow stain!) with some pepper to ‘activate’, then I thought of ground mustard seeds (‘activates’ cabbage family foods) but this is quite a strong taste.
    So: 8 parts turmeric + 1 part pepper + 1 part mustard – anything else to add ? (Saffron is rather expensive !) I wonder if powdered garlic and ginger are healthy ?
    The addition of some dry rice grains might keep things free-flowing in the pepper pot.
    And then for desserts you could have another shaker: turmeric + pepper + cinnamon, but it might be tricky getting the balance right, without overpowering your dessert (cardamon, clove, nutmeg, anise, fennel, ginger … tricky balance).

    1. Nice idea. I eat turmeric and ginger and black pepper off the spoon, if it’s not added into my food. But then I can pretty much eat anything; I even take powdered amla off the spoon to and that isn’t all that pleasant lol

        1. My supplier has recently changed the manufacturing process such that the amla powder is a lot finer. It blends even easier and surprisingly doesn’t taste as strong, but it means when taken off the spoon and placed into the mouth of wants to escape haha and also sticks far easier to the roof of ones mouth.

      1. Please don’t try that with cinnamon. I’m sure I read somewhere that it is hazardous. It’s probably on Youtube or somewhere.

          1. I don’t think eating a spoonful will kill you, but apparently it coats the esophagus and makes you feel pretty terrible for awhile. It just doesn’t go down very well.

      2. haha my mom would have loved having you as a kid…every fortnight or so we had to drink this shot of a horrible concoction of tumeric ginger lemon and a boat load of other spices in water (in addition to getting these in our diet every single day twice a day!)…she finally switched the water for milk to make it easier for us but god it was awful but i thank her every single day for it now!

    2. I seem to recall Dr. Greger DISCOURAGING the use of black pepper w/turmeric as it increased turmeric’s bioavailability by 2000% – way too much in his opinion.

        1. I remember now where he voiced his concern: It was a talk he gave to the Rouxbe students last year. Unfortunately, that video isn’t available here, but I recall being surprised at his vehemence that this was not a good idea.

          1. Cathy: Good point about the amount mattering. It may also matter if we are talking about combining black pepper with turmeric (the whole food) verses curcumin (the extract, which would be more potent).

    1. Another easy way to turmeric along with some other powerhouse spices is to make spiced oatmeal with turmeric, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, a tiny pinch of cloves and a couple of grinds of black pepper (weird for oatmeal, but it does blend with the other spices well) all made with 1/2 water and 1/2 vanilla plant milk and dried cherries, cranberries or raisins. We make a big pot and then breakfast for the next several days requires just a couple of minutes to thin the leftover oatmeal with some additional plant milk and heat in the microwave.

      1. This sounds much tastier than eating the spices right off the spoon (as suggested below, I’m just not that hard core). Thanks for the tip!

      2. Try turmeric root (grated), with chopped onion, garlic, celery, carrot, and ginger, mixed with a base of sweet potatoes, quinoa, and steamed frozen veges, all organic. It’s something I’ve put together over time, as I’m disabled and can only stand for a hr or so, and need to make a base of sweet potatoes, quinoa, and steamed vege’s that will last 5 days until the next base is made, and then introducing the grated and chopped on a daily bases. This I eat with about 5 or 6 large leaves of romaine lettuce, putting teaspoons of the mix on torn pieces of the romaine. The sweet with the pungent seems to go well together.

    2. my grandmother who lived her entire life in india eating a very strict vegetarian diet drank fresh lemon juice and water (no sugar etc) everyday for over 25 years and by the time she was in she early 60s all her teeth were very very badly eroded…they were still strong and no cavities etc but they had eroded into pointy structures…I have no idea of the names of the teeth layers etc but to give you a picture there was an outer transparent layer that had eroded to pointy structures and an inside opaque thingy (?) that was very uneven and jagged and shorter than the outer layer. Every dentist we went to attributed this to be acid erosion and had to replace all her teeth despite them technically still being strong from the root etc and no cavities…she used to drink a big glass of plain water after the lemon water drink so technically she was rinsing her mouth yet there was horrible erosion.

      1. I’ve read that for all the potential health benefits of regularly drinking lemon water, it does come with the risk of eroding dental enamel after long time use. Apparently having it cold, rather than heated, helps with this a bit. Also, you shouldn’t brush your teeth for a while after having something this acidic as brushing just serves to scrub your teeth with acid.

      2. Did she use lemon or lime? In that part of the world, limes are more common than lemons (I’d never seen a lemon, except in photos, before coming to the US), and lime juice is more acidic than lemon juice.

  2. Could it be people in India are out in the sunshine getting “real” vitamin D, not some factory-made pill that simply is not the same thing? Maybe the spice helps, but do you see these excessive rates of
    of ALZH’s in Japan (fish and pork consumption), and in other areas of long-lived groups? Lots of these cultures work
    outdoors in the sun, getting vitamin D from that.

    Rural Pennsylvania is cloudy and cold a lot of the year.

  3. Curcumin is the only part of turmeric that has studies for reversing Alzheimer’s. Since the latest studies show fungus and other infections are the cause of Alzheimer’s it is clear it is the anti fungal and anti germ benefits of curcumin that are active against Alz.
    Comparing a junk food area in the USA against a locally grown healthy food area of rural India is about as unscientific as you can get. There are areas of the USA where eating healthy food purchased from farmers markets is consumed such as parts of California and it may be possible to make that comparison which would be more scientific. Alzheimer’s is diet specific. Processed starchy carb diet is the cause that deserves fingering.
    PS For the last time, Turmeric is NOT Curcumin.

    1. Robert Redfern: You seem very interested in the cause of Alzheimer’s. Here is a super interesting video that talks about the research that is getting at the likely root cause (or at least one of them) of Alzheimer’s:

      Here’s a quote to get you started: “Considerable evidence now indicates that Alzheimer’s Disease is primarily a vascular disorder, based on a number of lines of evidence that point toward impaired circulation of blood to the brain. Vascularrisk factors, such as high cholesterol, can be thought of as a ticking time bomb to Alzheimer’s Disease. What’s bad for the heart may be bad for the mind.”

      You can click the button ‘sources cited’ to the right of the video and then look at the text area under the video to get a list of the studies behind this information. The studies presented seem like some pretty strong evidence to me. Hope you find this interesting.

      1. The latest Spanish study was even more clear. In post mortem only those with fungus on the brain suffered with Alzheimer’s and no matter how much plaque unless the fungus was present there was no alzheimer’s.
        Dementia is a vascular disorder and it would not be the first time studies have made simple errors of vocabulary. For instance looking through PubMed you will see many studies claiming the use of turmeric but when you read further you see they meant to say curcumin. If researchers do not know the difference or are so sloppy why would we bother to read the rest?

        1. I’d have to say you are being incredibly nitpicky on something that really needn’t be nitpicked. curcumin is not turmeric, but it is PART OF turmeric. It is the equivalent of complaining about a study referencing the benefits of allicin mentioning the consumption of garlic… Your seemingly outraged reaction is perplexing to me, and confounding considering the intricate relationship between the two.

          1. Blaice, Curcumin is a specific extract of turmeric and there is no relationship with turmeric once extracted, The valid studies are for Curcumin and not turmeric. There are no good studies for turmeric. I am outraged at the sloppiness in terms and since most of the medical studies are sloppy to the point of fraudulent we reply on natural health terminology to be correct.
            Joanna, here is the reference and you can see more studies at the bottom of my article.

            1. Yes, it is an extract, but you are ignoring the fact that it is extracted FROM turmeric……

              “Chemically, curcumin is a diarylheptanoid. Turmeric’s other two curcuminoids are desmethoxycurcumin and bis-desmethoxycurcumin. Curcuminoids are natural phenols that are responsible for the yellow color of turmeric. Curcumin can exist in several tautomeric forms, including a 1,3-diketo form and two equivalent enol forms. The enol form is more energetically stable in the solid phase and in organic solvents, while in water the 1,3-diketo dominates.”

              It literally is the bioactive ingredient of turmeric…. Without turmeric, there is no curcumin. Soooo, my point still stands. Are you implying the body is too inept to utilize the curcumin from the turmeric? You are only reiterating the point I made in reference to allicin and garlic.

              1. Have there been any studies done as to the affect of the curcuminoids working in synergy with each other, and if this working of the compounds together has any affect on the health these people of India have.

              2. Thank you very much for this, Blaice. I was also very confused why Robert would want to disenfranchise Turmeric to the point of suggesting one should not ingest it since Curcumin was the real arrestor of Alzheimer’s. It gave me the feeling that Robert was trying to feather his own hat because he had published a study on this or something. Trying to draw a very fine semantics line between the two ingredients while losing sight of the real issue: what the body needs to prevent Alzheimers from appearing. I believe Alzheimers is a more recent ailment caused by people not ingesting the ingredients required by the body as they have in the past because of the dominant intake of processed foods which do not have these ingredients in them and of which Americans
                consume more and more of because of their busy schedules or lazy living habits. I don’t buy the push to go vegan because I see very healthy people from other countries who have very heavy meat or dairy diets. I believe it is the exclusion of some ingredient the body needs that causes ailments, and in this case the Curcumin from Turmeric is probably what many need to preclude them from exhibiting signs of Alzheimers. I also do not believe the “one size fits all” approach because health and the human body are very intricate and complicated. The need for one ingredient in one body may not work in the same manner in another body. So thank you again for pointing some of this out.

        1. Tom Goff: Triple up-vote for you! Very helpful post all around. Especially helpful is the article you found. I really enjoyed reading it. And I agree, the article puts the single study in question into proper perspective.

        2. Tom, I find your assertion offensive and I can only think your mind is corrupted by grain and cereal consumption (one of the many side effects of grain and cereal consumption).

          1. Strange because one of the links in one of your responses to Blaice was to an “article ” of yours. In fact, the said article was a puff piece promoting your book. So the questions are:
            1) are you or are you not trying to encourage people to buy your book on this subject? and
            2) do you or do you not have – shall we say – unconventional views on grain and cereal consumption which are not shared by the overwhelming majority of the scientific community?
            Oh, and feel free to feel offended by my setting out the facts but what is important is whether the statements are correct or not. Whether you feel offended by them is not really relevant. But thank you for sharing.

            1. Since my books are free, your assertion like the rest of your claim that grains and cereals are not prime factors in disease cause, will be taken by most people who aware of the latest science as uninformed at best.

              1. Your article states in black and white that the hardcopy book is for sale.

                And informed people and the scientific community know that wholegrain consumption is associated with lower mortality and better health. Only authors of fad diet books, internet marketers and the poor souls who believe them maintain otherwise.

                  1. Yes but, to be absolutely fair, the PDF version of his book is free. However, the claims he makes about grains and cereals being “prime factors in disease cause” are, well, an extreme fringe view.

  4. Golden milk is an easy way to take it as a nightcap drink . In a glass of warm milk add 1 tsp of honey & 1 level tsp of tumeric powder or you can make it like a coffee 2/3 hot water . Add the honey last though because hot water destroys it’s value.

    1. Bercsil, i found a few articles that looked at this very question; however, they were mostly performed in rodents. For the most part, they concluded that turmeric did not influence the pharmaceutical effects of warfarin. I think the only concern would be with mega-doses; however, if you are consuming a teaspoon or so of turmeric then I don’t believe you will see any harmful effect. If you are concerned though I would discuss with your physician before taking any high doses (i.e. supplementation) of turmeric.

  5. You’re the Best Dr. Greger. Your diet is helping me so much and you are one of the best examples of what a real good doctor should be. Thank you for giving me a better health and inspiration!

  6. The doctor treating my mother’s dementia has just given permission for turmeric to be added to her meals when appropriate. She is a patient in the Oneida extended Care Facility in Oneida, NY. We asked this to be done after reading your email and sharing it with him. Thank you so much!

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