FYI Daily

Curcumin May Help With Parkinson's Disease

Last updated: Apr 11, 2012

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Thinking about curry for dinner tonight? It might not be a bad idea.

A new study shows that curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, might help fight Parkinson's disease. Turmeric, a spice with several super-healing powers, is responsible for the bright yellow or orange color of many curries. According to scientists at Michigan State University, it might also help prevent clumping of alpha-synuclein, a protein linked to the early stages of Parkinson's.

If you, too, have long since forgotten your high school biology, here's a quick primer: Proteins are chains of amino acids that handle different roles in the body, like repairing damage in the body or building bones. They're built through a process known as folding, though scientists don't know much about how that works.

Scientists do know that the rate of folding matters. The slower a protein folds, the more likely that it will clump together with other proteins. In the case of Parkinson's, the clumped alpha-synuclein often turns into Lewy bodies.

But according to Basir Ahmad, a postdoctoral researcher at Michigan State, and co-author Lisa Lapidus, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Michigan State, curcumin binds to the alpha-synuclein so it doesn't clump with other proteins and also speeds up its rate of folding, so it's less likely to clump anyway.

Should you rush out to buy curcumin supplements? Not yet.

According to PsychCentral, curcumin's usefulness here is probably limited, since it doesn't easily move to the brain, where the folding and clumping rates matter. But it might help researchers develop better drugs that can prevent clumping of proteins in the brain.