For centuries, turmeric has remained a focal point in natural medicine. In recent decades, researchers have taken a keen interest in verifying the claims of our ancestors by putting turmeric through thousands of rigorous clinical trials.
Its curcumin content has demonstrated a vast array of healing properties and practical uses. With so many proven health benefits, curcumin may be the most widely used dietary supplement on earth. But, can turmeric improve brain health, and can it enhance memory function or reduce brain fog?
Turmeric and Brain Health
Turmeric supplements have shown potential in the treatment of several conditions. Studies show that curcumin may alleviate arthritis and joint pain, lower blood pressure, and enhance skin care. Turmeric may even improve allergy symptoms and aid weight loss.
New evidence suggests there may be significant benefits to brain health, including chronic disease prevention. Curcumin contains neuroprotective properties to preserve mental acuity. Therefore, turmeric may have the ability to boost memory function, reduce brain fog, and enhance overall cognition. (1)
Before we analyze the studies, let’s discuss the inner workings of memory and brain fog in a bit more detail.
What is the Difference Between Memory and Brain Fog?
Lack of mental clarity often coincides with an inability to focus, poor levels of concentration, and memory problems. Better known as brain fog or mental fatigue, this is not technically a medical condition. Instead, it’s a collection of symptoms related to reduced brain function.
The brain is an extremely complex organ. Maintaining its optimal performance should be a priority for everyone. The extent with which turmeric can help largely depends on the cause of your brain fog, which we’ll touch on shortly. First, let’s review a few core functions of the brain. (2, 3)
- Cognition is the mental process of knowledge acquisition and understanding it through experience, senses, and thought. Cognition encompasses several aspects of intellectual function, including memory, reasoning, judgment, problem-solving, decision making, computation, and evaluation.
- Memory is our brain’s ability to encode, store, retain, and recall experiences or information. It’s the total sum of this data built up over time with a set of encoded neural connections in the brain. Think of it as the information processing system composed of short-term (working) memory, long-term memory, and sensory processing.
- Learning, albeit similar, is not the same is a memory. This process involves information acquisition, which causes neurons to fire together in specific patterns, increasing the likelihood of them firing together for future retrieval. Learning also includes modifying existing knowledge, skills, or behavior.
- Neuroplasticity, commonly referred to as brain plasticity, is the aptitude for the brain to change continuously during an individual’s life. This process involves the strengthening or weakening of synapses, optimization of neural networks, and one’s capacity to learn and memorize new information.
Why Turmeric Curcumin?
There are several different causes of brain fog that turmeric has shown the potential to treat. Turmeric may improve neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, migraine headaches, and depression, three known contributors to mental fatigue.
Curcumin can even improve liver health and diabetes, which if left unmanaged, may cause brain fog. Since turmeric is also an excellent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, researchers have numerous reasons to feel optimistic about its capacity to enhance cognition.
In this post, we will cover the science and research on curcumin’s ability to reduce brain fog, boost memory, and improve overall brain health.
Turmeric for Brain Health: Is Curcumin Good for Memory & Brain Fog?
One study analyzed turmeric’s effects on cognition and mood in a group of healthy elderly individuals. The trial contained 60 subjects between the ages of 60 and 85 years old, consuming a 400 mg dose of curcumin. The study was double-blind, placebo-controlled, and randomized.
One hour post-administration, researchers found significant performance improvements in working memory tasks and sustained attention span compared to the placebo group. After four additional weeks of treatment, the curcumin group experienced reduced psychological stress-induced fatigue, enhanced mood, and a better sense of calmness.
Lastly, the study noted improvements in overall alertness and contentedness. While you may not often associate turmeric with nootropics, it appears that it can enhance memory, focus and concentration, and cognition in elderly populations. (4)
There are several mechanisms of action turmeric takes on the body to prevent cognitive impairment. Curcumin reduces chronic low-grade systemic inflammation, enhances antioxidant activity, and reduces oxidative stress.
By fighting free radicals in the body, turmeric has shown potential to preserve neuronal integrity, which can inhibit the progression of cognitive decline. These processes demonstrate an innate ability to slow brain aging and reduce brain fog symptomology caused by aging and disease. (5, 6)
Turmeric supplementation may also improve DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) synthesis in the body. DHA is the fatty acid closely linked to brain health, brain development, and neuroprotection.
If you have a DHA deficiency, you leave yourself open to several cognitive disorders, including anxiety, memory problems, inability to focus, etc. Researchers have found that curcumin elevates multiple enzymes responsible for the synthesis of DHA from its precursor, alpha-lipoic acid (ALA). (7)
Another way curcumin can improve brain health is by reducing the neurotoxicity induced by fluoride. It’s well-known that fluoride may have adverse consequences on mental health and other core biological functions. Researchers performed a trial testing curcumin’s neuroprotective benefits on a group of mice.
The results showed that fluoride amplified lipid peroxidation (LPO), a major cause of damage to cell membranes. Fluoride also increased the number of neurodegenerative cells present in the hippocampus. With 30 days of curcumin administration, there was a significant decrease in both neurodegeneration and LPO. (8)
A second animal study used curcumin to test its effects on cognition and neurogenesis in a group of aged rats. Neurogenesis refers to the process of developing new neurons in the brain. Following the 12-week treatment period, researchers identified increased cognition and neurogenesis in the rats.
The treated group also experienced enhanced spatial and non-spatial memory. These results suggest that curcumin may affect neuronal development, neurotransmission, synaptic plasticity, and signal transduction. (9)
Another essential protein for cognition is a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes the growth and maturation of nerve cells (neurons) in the body. Turmeric has shown that it can significantly improve BDNF levels in people with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), diabetes, and obesity. (10, 11)
The last study we’ll look at further supports the idea of using turmeric for memory improvement and brain fog reduction. A group of chronically stressed rats used curcumin for a 20-day treatment period.
Following turmeric administration, there was a notable reversal of impaired hippocampal neurogenesis, followed by increases in serotonin receptors and BDNF. These results suggest that curcumin may help overcome stress-induced abnormalities in the brain that can inhibit cognitive function. (12)
Final Thoughts on Turmeric Benefits for Brain Function
Can turmeric improve memory and reduce brain fog? The answer appears to be, yes, and with almost no adverse side effects. However, most of the studies used curcumin on aging populations or subjects experiencing significant cognitive decline.
Turmeric has shown an ability to preserve brain health by reducing neuroinflammation, inhibiting neuronal damage, and exerting powerful neuroprotective effects. Still, we need more studies to confirm whether or not curcumin would be beneficial for younger, and otherwise healthy individuals.
- Difference between turmeric vs. curcumin.
If you’re looking to improve brain function with turmeric, consult with a doctor or physician to make sure curcumin can improve your situation.