Although it’s premature to start taking curcumin to treat Parkinson’s disease, the popular culinary compound found in the spice turmeric has shown promise in battling the neurodegenerative disease. Approximately 1 million people in the United States have Parkinson’s disease, with 50,000 to 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
At Michigan State University, a group of researchers discovered that curcumin can help prevent proteins called alpha-synuclein from clumping. The process of clumping is the first step in Parkinson’s and other debilitating diseases.
Curcumin also has another benefit: when it binds to alpha-synuclein, it speeds up the reconfiguration rate of the protein, which helps prevent it from clumping with other proteins. These discoveries about curcumin and alpha-synuclein may lead scientists to identify drugs that can treat Parkinson’s and other diseases.
According to Lisa Lapidus, associate professor of physics and astronomy and a co-author of the study, “this kind of study showcases the technique of measuring reconfiguration and opens the door for developing drug treatments.”
The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research explains that alpha-synuclein “is a major constituent of Lewy bodies, protein clumps that are the pathological hallmark of PD.” Alpha-synuclein have been the target of much research in recent years, as evidence is pointing to their role in both the common form of Parkinson’s (sporadic) as well as the rare (familial) cases.
Treatments for Parkinson’s disease
Basically, Parkinson’s disease develops when about 60% to 80% of the brain cells that produce a chemical called dopamine are damaged. The result is a decline in the amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is critical for smooth coordinated muscle movements.
Currently, medical treatments for Parkinson’s disease fall into two general categories: drugs and surgery. Most Parkinson’s drugs are taken to either temporarily boost dopamine levels or imitate the action of dopamine. These drugs, known a dopaminergics, can help reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, which include muscle rigidity, slowed movements, tremor, and problems with coordinated movements.
A surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation can be used to treat patients whose symptoms are not controlled sufficiently with medications. Deep brain stimulation involves implanting a neurostimulator that sends electrical stimulation to specific areas in the brain that control movement. Use of deep brain stimulation has largely replaced other surgical options for Parkinson’s disease.
For now, Lapidus has noted curcumin won’t be on the treatment list for Parkinson’s disease in the near future. However, the study may lead the way to new treatments or a disease for which there are few options.