NEW YORK, United States, Monday January 26, 2015 – While the culinary merits of Trinidad vs Guyana curry continue to be hot topics for debate by their respective nationals, evidence is mounting in the wider scientific community that the dish could convey significant health benefits.
Studies have already indicated that curcumin, one of the compounds in the curry spice turmeric, could reduce inflammation in the body and have cancer-fighting properties.
Previous studies have also found that the spice may be useful in the treatment of heart disease and arthritis, as well as having an anti-depressant effect and boosting brain repair in stroke and Alzheimer’s patients.
Now, a new study conducted by psychologists from the City University of New York suggests that the spice could help erase bad memories.
Researchers found that curcumin not only prevented new fear memories being stored in the brain, but also removed pre-existing fear memories.
Scientists hope that these findings will assist in the development of treatments for people suffering with certain psychological disorders.
For the study, the researchers triggered fear in rats with a particular sound. The team assumed the rodents were afraid when they froze.
Later, when the rats were subjected to the sound again, those who had been given regular food froze.
Rats that had been fed a curcumin-rich diet did not freeze, however, suggesting that their fearful memories had been erased.
“This suggests that people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological disorders that are characterised by fearful memories may benefit substantially from a curcumin-enriched diet,” said lead researcher Professor Glenn Schafe.
Professor Schafe went on to explain that curcumin is known to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, and this may account for the way it works on fearful memories.
“Inflammatory processes have been implicated in a wide range of diseases ranging from allergies to cardiovascular disease to Alzheimer’s,” he said.
“Inflammation has also been implicated in psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Some of these same inflammatory pathways have also been implicated in memory formation, so it all fits.
While noting that it is not yet fully understood how curcumin impairs fear memories while sparing other types of memories, Professor Schafe said that it is known that different types of memory systems encode different types of memories.
The memory of the event could therefore still be there, but without the memory of the fear associated with it.
Memories, formed in the brain as new connections between neurons, are initially fragile, but gradually stabilise in the brain as they are put into long-term storage – a process known as consolidation.
When established memories are recalled, they also temporarily destabilise in the brain, briefly becoming like new memories.
“If nothing happens, those destabilised fear memories get put back into long-term storage. In other words, they restabilise, or reconsolidate,” Professor Schafe explained.
“But we’ve learned that we can go into the brain during that destabilisation window and prevent those fear memories from reconsolidating.
“Effectively, we can erase them. And that appears to be what we’ve done with a curcumin-enriched diet,” he said.