Turmeric - the brain protector spice

If you are a regular visitor to 40plusandalliswell you will know that I often use turmeric in my recipes.  Turmeric provides colour (care - it can stain clothes) and gives an earthy, aromatic flavour to dishes but it also has many health benefits including a protective effect on the brain.  

Dementia has now overtaken cancer as our most feared disease and one of the constituents of turmeric, curcumin can help protect your brain in several ways. 

Firstly curcumin is anti-inflammatory.  This is beneficial because inflammation in the brain can lead to brain cell degeneration and impairment of brain function.  Please see also 'How can vegans eat to beat inflammation'-http://40plusandalliswell.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/how-can-vegans-eat-to-beat-inflammation.html

Curcumin is also antioxidant.  This means that it can neutralise free radicals that get into your body through pollution and are even formed as a result of your metabolism.  If left unchecked these free radicals can damage brain cells leading to loss of cognitive function. 

Several studies have also shown that curcumin also can help regulate cholesterol in the blood. This helps prevent the arteries that supply the brain developing plaques which would impair blood supply to the brain.  Your brain is a big user of oxygen relative to its size - it uses three times as much as your muscles and this oxygen is carried to it in the blood.  If your brain cells are oxygen deprived they will be damaged and again this will impair brain function.  

Excitingly, especially for vegans, curcumin can stimulate the enzymes that convert ALA (alpha linolenic acid) to DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is essential for normal brain function. 

The main sources of DHA in the diet is oily fish, which of course is not available to vegans but ALA can be sourced from such foods as soy, flaxseeds and walnuts which are available to vegans.

If this is not enough to convince you curcumin also stimulates neurogenesis (growth of new brain tissue) and neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to form new neural pathways).

How much turmeric do you need to take take daily to get the health benefits?  About half a teaspoon a day of powdered turmeric should be fine.  Use in soups, curries, smoothies or tossed into roasted veg or stirred through rice.  Alternatively you could just take it as a tea.

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