Written by Divinity Nutra, Updated on April 17, 2022
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, is turmeric good for the brain, and can it improve memory and help with brain fog?
Turmeric for Brain Health
Turmeric supplements have shown potential in the treatment of several conditions. Studies show that curcumin may alleviate arthritis and joint pain, and lower blood pressure while providing many unique benefits for skin. 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.
Memory and Brain Fog Explained
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 to 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 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 as 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, diabetes, and thyroid disease, which if left unmanaged, may cause brain fog and memory problems. 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 Memory and Brain Fog
Is turmeric good for memory and 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 the 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 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)
How to Take Turmeric for Brain Health
Whether you’re trying to improve brain power or preserve brain function as you age, turmeric can be incredibly helpful. Since turmeric powder is only 3.14% curcumin, simply adding more of the spice to food or smoothies is insufficient and likely won’t provide any benefits.
Therefore, it’s important to use an encapsulated turmeric supplement to make sure you get the proper amount of curcumin to benefit the brain. Besides this, most turmeric brands will use turmeric and black pepper together for enhanced absorption. This is crucial since the body struggles to absorb curcumin on its own.
The best turmeric supplements will also use patented ingredient AstraGin, which studies have shown to improve turmeric absorption by 92%. AstraGin also has the added benefit of supporting digestion and overall gut health.
How much turmeric should I take for brain health? Knowing how much curcumin per day you need, and being consistent with your dosing is the key to getting the best results. For supporting cognitive function and mental health, take 150 to 250 mg of curcumin each day. The majority of turmeric products will fall within this range, which is a safe and effective amount for daily consumption.
Potential Side Effects
What are the negative effects of turmeric? While using turmeric and curcumin, reported side effects are rare and mild, especially when using the appropriate dosage. To ensure your safety, it’s important to be aware of the following adverse reactions.
- Curcumin is a natural blood thinner and can interfere with other anticoagulants that you may be taking.
- Excessive amounts of turmeric can lead to stomach discomfort, nausea, and headaches.
- Diabetics, or anyone closely monitoring their blood sugar, should use extra caution since turmeric has a glucose-lowering effect.
Who should not take turmeric? Don’t consume turmeric while pregnant or nursing. Having turmeric powder in food is likely fine, but don’t consume medicinal amounts during this time. Avoid taking turmeric if it’s two weeks before surgery to avoid blood thinning and recovery problems.
Final Thoughts on Turmeric and Brain Health
Is turmeric good for your brain? 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.
Curcumin supplements have 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.
If you’re considering taking curcumin for brain health, consult with a doctor or physician to make sure curcumin can improve your situation.