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03rd October 2014

Curry: One day you’re in, the next day you’re out

?????????????????????????????????????After topping the chart for Britain's favourite dish for over a decade it seems the popularity of chicken tikka masala has finally taken a hit. It does not even appear in the top 10 ‘food heaven’ dishes in a new YouGov online survey of 10,000 adult respondents.

But some more positive news for curry came this week. A new study suggested a compound, aromatic-tumerone, found in the curry spice turmeric, could encourage the growth of nerve cells in the brain, which may support brain regeneration in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

The effect of aromatic-tumerone

Researchers studied the effect of aromatic-tumerone, in neural stem cells (NSCs) in the brain. The study found that when the turmeric extracts were either directly cultured with NSCs in the laboratory or when they were injected directly into the brain of live rats, the extracts increased the growth and the development of stem cells. Higher concentrations of aromatic-tumerone caused greater increases in numbers of NSCs.

But claims that ‘curry can beat dementia’ are sensationalist and at worst cruel if they give people false hope. The research is in the very earliest of stages. We do not know whether the increase in NSCs would have any positive effect on degenerative brain disease in rats, let alone in humans. In fact, whilst NSCs have some ability to regenerate damaged or destroyed brain cells, they may be insufficient to repair the damage caused by conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or stroke, and we certainly don’t know whether eating turmeric in a curry would have any effect on regeneration in the brain.

Other reasons to consider the use of curry spices in our food

But there are other reasons to consider the use of curry spices in our food. As a person gets older it is common for the senses of taste and smell to decline. Older people may perceive a broad range of flavours as being less intense, so foods may taste bland and less palatable, resulting in a decrease in intake. The impact of ageing on taste is amplified in people who take multiple medications and who are chronically ill, although there is significant overlap in these two groups. Flavour enhancement has been suggested as one way of encouraging food consumption in older populations at risk of malnutrition. Spicy foods, or adding herbs, citrus flavours or mustard to dishes, may have a positive impact on intake and enjoyment in some older people and as an added bonus, flavouring food in this way allows reduced use of salt.

So why not spice up a life and add a curry to the menu!

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Ayela Spiro

Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation

Ayela is a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, where her role involves providing expert advice on nutrition and health issues to a number of key audiences including consumers, health professionals, charities, the media and the food industry. At the heart of her work is the communication of nutrition science that promotes understanding of nutrition and health and contributes to the improved wellbeing of all. Read more

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