An 18-month study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that 21 adults aged 50-90 taking a twice-daily 90-mg curcumin supplement saw their memory function improve by an average of 28% over that period, according to Forbes.
Depression scores also improved, while those of a control group stayed the same. The study was published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and was the first long-term, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of a bioavailable form of curcumin in non-demented adults.
The researchers concluded that taking a bioavailable curcumin supplement daily may lead to improved memory and attention in non-demented adults. The specifics of how curcumin works are not yet known, "but it may be due to its ability to reduce brain inflammation, which has been linked to Alzheimer's disease and major depression," Gary Small, M.D., who led the research team, said in a statement.
Extract and ingredient manufacturers are exploring ways to incorporate curcumin in the formulation of nutraceuticals, dietary supplements, herbals, cosmetics and functional foods and beverages. Consumers who don't want to cook with turmeric but want ready-to-eat options featuring the ingredient are a key market.
Turmeric has had some stumbles along the way, including a link to lead contamination, and multiple recalls. Part of that stems from a lack of oversight, which could be remedied if U.S. manufacturers grew and processed turmeric here, where food safety protocols are more strictly enforced.
Consumers today are increasingly interested in natural ways to improve their health as evidenced by the "food as medicine" movement. Medical foods are still a relatively new category for manufacturers to specifically focus on, with only Nestle and Hormel making major announcements in this segment. But as the global population ages, medical complications will inevitably increase, and many consumers will manage ailments with food.
This is a critical consumer for the industry to understand. It's one thing to be health-conscious, but another altogether to see food as a way to treat a chronic disease. This trend gives manufacturers the power to not only affect what and when a person eats, but also have an impact on medical treatments. This presents significant opportunities and challenges to companies seeking to capitalize on this fast-growing market, which is estimated to be worth $15 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Nestle has put forth a $500-million budget to support medical foods research through 2021. This includes $1 million worth of machinery to analyze human DNA at a lab in Lausanne, Switzerland. The idea is to develop personalized programs for patients. In recent years, Nestle has made acquisitions of and formed partnerships with medical food companies to support its efforts. An example is Pamlab, acquired in 2013, which makes products for use under medical supervision for brain and metabolic health.
More recently, the Colorado-based startup Know Brainer Foods has partnered with Nestle on a line of coffee creamers featuring medium-chain triglycerides, organic grass-fed butter and added collagen protein. The company claims its products can help jump-start the day with additional focus and energy.
Given the ever-growing number of functional foods and beverages out there, it's not beyond the realm of possibility to one day see people being "prescribed" turmeric and products containing it for mild memory or mood problems, similar to the "food pharmacies" popping up in the Bay Area to dispense fresh produce to those with diabetes, high blood pressure and other dietary-related problems.