May 12, 2016

A Curcumin-Like Nasal Spray to Treat Alzheimer's?

This blog is loaded with reports about the proven medicinal powers of curcumin, the active ingredient in the Indian curry spice turmeric.

One of the newest applications for the compound is its use in aerosol form to fight Alzheimer’s disease (AD). More about that intriguing development in a minute.

First, here’s one of the most “user-friendly” descriptions about turmeric / curcumin I’ve seen, from – of all places – a food website.
A cherished cousin of ginger, turmeric is a root that accounts for an excess of uses in our kitchens and lives. Bright orange-yellow in colour with a heady fragrance, turmeric has a unique earthy taste, with a touch of citrusy bitterness and the numbing punch of pepper. It is a staple in all Indian cooking, with its primary compound curcumin, giving the delectable dishes that lovely yellow tinge, a staining quality that can often turn against us (hint: stained nails after devouring some delicious curry). 
Coined as the most powerful spices of all, haldi is every Indian household's go-to fix for a variety of health problems. Its incredible list of healing properties include antioxidant, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-carcinogenic, anti-mutagenic and anti-inflammatory - that should be an enough number of antis to make you look up and rethink its usage in your food! 
The use of this spice has been traced back a thousand years in India and China with some stories even suggesting that it was used about ten thousand years back when Lord Rama walked the Earth. Its usage has been long embedded in the ancient Ayurvedic practice and has been cited to promote the holistic health of the body - this has resulted in increased usage of it in the Western world too.

The same website provides “more than enough reasons to include it [turmeric] in our daily diet.” Those reasons (explained with additional information on the site) include:
  1. Relief from Arthritic Pain
  2. Cancer Prevention
  3. Brain Protection
  4. Digestion Improvement
  5. Healing Properties
  6. Delay in Diabetes
  7. Immunity Booster
  8. Liver Detoxifier
Number three on this list -- brain protection -- encompasses studies showing that curcumin's anti-inflammatory properties can help slow down the progression of Parkinson's disease, I've been taking curcumin daily for the past five years or longer.

There's no way of really knowing for sure, other than perhaps an autopsy after I'm dead, whether curcumin actually has been slowing down the progression of my Parkinson's. My neurologists have told me that my PD has been progressing slowly but that could be attributable to all sorts of factors. My gut sense, however, is that curcumin has helped.
And Now, a Curcumin Aerosol Spray for Alzheimer’s?
Adding a new twist to #3 above (brain protection), Japanese scientists are developing a new nasal aerosol spray to deliver the powerful effects of curcumin more directly into the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. The intriguing news first appeared in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, and was picked up by various media, including the ScienceDaily website earlier this month.

So far – a typical caveat for exciting news like this – the procedure has been shown effective only in studies of mice. We’ve learned many times that the journey from mice to men is a long, often arduous, sometimes impossible one.

Perhaps the biggest challenge researchers have encountered putting curcumin’s potent, proven properties to work is its “bioavailability” – its capacity to cross the blood-brain barrier. That barrier -- developed through countless millennia as a protective device to prevent toxic elements from entering the brain – has its flip side, too, greatly diminishing our ability to get healing agents into the brain, where we want them.

Black Pepper to the Rescue
One strategy in particular has proved effective: adding piperine -- the pungent, alkaloid compound in black pepper -- to the mix. Most of those tasty turmeric-based curries we enjoy include black pepper. So, simply eating a curried meal can be good for your health.

Wellington Pham, Ph.D. -- assistant professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences and Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt and senior author of the study – said, “Curcumin has demonstrated ability to enter the brain, bind and destroy the beta-amyloid plaques present in Alzheimer’s with reduced toxicity.”

Medical authorities have known for a long time that the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain drives the (so far) irreversible loss of neurons. Those aggregating proteins are a hallmark of AD.

If enough curcumin can reach the brain, the compound may have the power to reduce harmful plaque build-ups… and may even have the ability to destroy some of the debilitating protein accumulations. If all these pieces really fall together, there is some prospect that science is working toward the possibility of actually reversing the effects of Alzheimer’s.

Zeroing In on the Curcumin Aerosol
Essentially, Pham and colleagues at Shiga University of Medical Science in Otsu, Japan, have done two key things:
  • Develop a small, artificial molecule -- FMeC1 – with properties very similar to curcumin.
  • Then they fashioned an atomizer to create the “curcumin aerosol.” Upon approval, that aerosol can be sprayed directly into the nose.
The FMeC1 molecules, unlike curcumin itself – is a “perfluoro” compound, so it can be tracked in the brain – non-invasively, and at relatively low cost – by magnetic resonance imaging.

It’s likely to take some time before the FDA approves the curcumin aerosol treatment for Alzheimer’s. But that already-impressive list of uses for this turmeric product just keeps growing.

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