Los Angeles, CA— There may be help for people suffering from memory problems.

A newstudy, conducted at UCLA and published inThe American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, found that daily doses of curcumin may not only prevent memory problems from worsening over time, but actually improve memory. Researchers also found decreases in areas of the brain that affect mood and memory, and that have been associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Curcumin is the compound in turmeric root that gives curry its yellow color, and it was chosen to see if its anti-inflammatory properties may protect the brain from neurodegeneration.

The team was led by UCLA's Gary Small. Researchers studied 40 people between the ages of 50 and 90. Participants were either given twice-daily 90-mg curcumin supplements or a placebo for 18 months. All the participants had mild memory problems, but didn’t have Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

According toForbes,  at the study’s outset, participants took memory and cognition tests, filled out questionnaires measuring their mood and depression, and underwent brain scans to look at two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s — amyloid-beta plaques and tau “tangles.”  Every six months they were tested for memory, cognition and mood, and given brain scans.

Results of the study are as follows:
  • Memory function of those who’d taken curcumin improved by 28% on average over the 18 months.
  • In contrast, the control group's scores rose slightly (possibly because they got more familiar with the tests) and then declined.
  • The depression scores of those taking curcumin also improved; the control group's didn't change.
  • Brain scans revealed significantly less amyloid and tau accumulation in two brain regions of the participants taking curcumin — the amygdala and hypothalamus, which control anxiety, memory, decision-making, and emotion.
“Exactly how curcumin exerts its effects is not certain, but it may be due to its ability to reduce brain inflammation, which has been linked to both Alzheimer’s disease and major depression,” said Small in a statement.

According to theAlzheimer's Association, an estimated 5.5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer's disease. In 2017, an estimated 5.3 million were age 65 and older and approximately 200,000 individuals were under age 65 and have younger-onset Alzheimer's.

In November, Microsoft founder Bill Gatesannouncedhe was giving $100 million to fight Alzheimer’s disease — $50 million out of his own pocket now, and $50 million later for start-up efforts. He said he has a family history of Alzheimer’s, and that the condition could wreck the U.S. health care system as more and more people get it.