Compelling and growing evidence links inflammation and oxidative stress to Alzheimer’s disease. According to the inflammation theory (discussed in dozens of recent clinical trials), inflammatory cytokines gather at the neurons of people who have Alzheimer's. These cytokines set off an inflammatory cascade. The inflammation generates high levels of free radicals that contribute directly to the formation of beta-amyloid plaques. The result is more inflammation, free radicals, and beta-amyloid plaques. Iron has also been linked to the generation of free radicals. Studies have shown that free iron accumulates on the surface of dying neurons, where it generates oxygen-derived free radicals that hasten the spread of the disease (Mandel S et al 2006).
The inflammation theory of Alzheimer’s disease is joined by other possible causes, including the excitotoxicity theory. In this theory, high levels of the amino acid glutamate in the brain overstimulate neurons. The overstimulated neurons release inflammatory cytokines. Glutamate excitotoxicity is mediated by N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors.
Curcumin is showing excellent early promise as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Studies of animals have shown that curcumin directly inhibits the formation of amyloid plaques (Ringman JM et al 2005). Based on early results, curcumin has generated considerable excitement in the research community. Unlike other nutrients, or even drugs, which tend to target one aspect of Alzheimer's, curcumin has been shown to lower oxidative damage, cognitive defects, damage to neural synapses, and the deposition of amyloid plaques. In addition, it regulates the levels of cytokines in the neurons (Cole GM et al 2004). In fact, studies suggest that curcumin may be even more effective than the over-the-counter NSAIDs ibuprofen and naproxen at inhibiting the accumulation of beta- amyloid in animal models (Yang F et al 2005). As previously discussed, beta-amyloid is involved in the formation of senile neuronal plaques. One method by which curcumin reduces inflammation is reduction of nuclear factor kappa B (NF kappaB), a nuclear transcription factor that regulates the genes that control cytokine production (Aggarwal BB et al 2004).
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