Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Little Spice in Our Lives: Good Brain Food

In my Peace Corps days as a volunteer teacher in North Africa, I vividly remember buying spices from large burlap spice bags at the Thursday morning open-air market on the main street of my little town, Grombalia, Tunisia. The women selling the spices had colorful orange and brown scarves wrapped around their heads with long, silver earrings dangling from their ears in the Berber style . They were friendly and I often bought spices, taking their advice on how to use them in cooking. That's where I learned to love turmeric, also called curcumin. It's a bright yellow spice which colors everything in its path yellow (including your hands if you're not careful) and is a key ingredient in curry, which accounts for the yellow color of most curries. I like curries of all kinds, mild to spicy, but I learned from the Berber women that turmeric is also great on baked or roasted fish.

Lately, several studies have looked at the effects of turmeric on the prevention of Alzheimer's. Previous research efforts have noted that the rate of Alzheimer's in people over 65 in the US is four times that of the same demographic in India. In fact, in some towns in India, less than one percent of the population over 65 have Alzheimer's. Naturally, diet is one place to look for the differences. And yes, turmeric is a grand antioxidant, which appears to significantly help prevent the plaques and tangles and related inflammation of Alzheimer's in the brain.

This finding, the latest in a series of similar findings over the last few months, came from research at the University of California, Los Angeles, led by Dr. Sally Frautschy.

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