Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Spice Improves Memory

Adding just 1 gram of turmeric to breakfast could help improve the memory of people who are in the very early stages of diabetes and at risk of cognitive impairment, according to a study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Em/Prof Mark Wahlqvist of Monash University recently led a study in Taiwan that tested the working memory of men and women aged 60 or older who had recently been diagnosed with untreated pre-diabetes, which is connected to dementia.

“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,” Wahlqvist said. “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.”

In the placebo-controlled study, subjects were given 1 gram of turmeric with an otherwise nutritionally bland breakfast of white bread. Their working memory was tested before and a few hours after the meal. “We found that this modest addition to breakfast improved working memory over 6 hours in older people with pre-diabetes,” Wahlqvist said.

Turmeric is widely used in cooking, particularly in Asia. Its characteristic yellow colour is due to curcumin, which accounts for 3–6% of turmeric and has been shown by experimental studies to reduce the risk of dementia.

“Our findings with turmeric are consistent with these observations, insofar as they appear to influence cognitive function where there is disordered energy metabolism and insulin resistance,” Wahlqvist said.