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Spices Boost Immunity

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Traditionally, diet and a healthy immune system have offered little protection against Alzheimer's disease you eat nutritious foods and hope for the best

Traditionally, diet and a healthy immune system have offered little protection against Alzheimer's disease you eat nutritious foods and hope for the best. But preliminary studies have found a link between some foods and prevention of Alzheimer's.

Prevalence of Alzheimer's in India among people in their 70s is about a quarter of the rate of occurrence in the West. That was the inspiration for a study that appeared in the Nov. 1, 2001 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Researchers suspect that elements of our own immune system may actually cause Alzheimer's. Known collectively as cytokines, these immune factors cause inflammation and oxidation of brain tissues conditions symptomatic of Alzheimer's. Certain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs known as NSAIDs (Motrin, for example) have been shown to decrease the risk of Alzheimer's, but they can cause gastric bleeding and other significant side-effects with long-term use. These side-effects, along with the lower Alzheimer's rates in India, prompted researchers to investigate curry spices in the search for alternatives to anti-inflammatory drugs.

Greg Cole and his colleagues at UCLA and the Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Administration tested curcumin, a yellow curry spice derived from turmeric, on rats with Alzheimer's. The curcumin-fed rats developed significantly lower brain levels of oxidized proteins and interleukin-1, an inflammatory cytokine, indicating lower risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Other studies continue, and results are not yet conclusive. But curcumin is a potent antioxidant, several times more effective than vitamin E at mopping up the free radicals that cause cell damage. The possibility of using Indian spices curcumin from turmeric to prevent Alzheimer's suggests that we may yet find other anti-inflammatory foods useful. Likely choices include ginger, oregano, papaya and pineapple.

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