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Novel connection: Curcumin may help boost DHA levels in the brain

Posted:  Thursday, April 16, 2015

Indian cuisine is incomplete without the wonderful flavouring and colouring spice turmeric. A powerful compound present in turmeric called curcumin is known to mediate a whole range of beneficial health effects. Adding another feature to this list, American researchers have identified the possible role of curcumin in boosting brain levels of docosahexanoic acid (DHA). It does so by enhancing the synthesis of DHA from its precursors in the liver.

The study, reported in the journal Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA), used a combination of in vitro cell culture tests and animal modelling to identify the conversion of precursors alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and docosapentanoic acid (DPA) to DHA. Previous research illustrated that curcumin and DHA together exerted beneficial effects on plasticity, behaviour and brain DHA content; these findings lent impetus and direction to this study.

The researchers found that curcumin supplementation elevated DHA synthesis from omega-3 precursors in the liver cells and together with dietary ALA increased in vivo levels of DHA both in the brain and liver. They also found that the levels of enzymes involved in the synthesis of DHA, namely FADS2 and elongase 2 were elevated. Thus, it seems curcumin modulates the DHA levels by affecting the pool of DHA synthesizing enzymes.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that dietary intake of curcumin and ALA could reduce anxiety-like symptoms. Since curcumin enhances the hepatic secretion of DHA, it could benefit patients with Alzheimer’s as they show reduced hepatic expression of DHA synthesising enzymes and eventual DHA deficiency.

“Taken together, these data suggest that curcumin enhances DHA synthesis resulting in elevated brain DHA content,” said the researchers. This finding could have important implications in human health and could help delay cognitive disease. This turmeric compound could also bring cheer to vegetarians who do not consume fish, which is a primary source of DHA. So here is a reason to smile when you sprinkle this magic spice in your curries.

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