The active ingredient in turmeric – a popular yellow spice that colors and adds flavor to curry – is called curcumin, and it could have huge benefits for your brain. New research published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry suggests curcumin improves memory and mood in people with mild, age-related memory loss.

After monitoring 40 subjects over the course of 18 months, researchers noted the substantial improvement in memory and attention in participants who took a daily curcumin supplement. Participants also reported mild improvement in mood after taking the supplement daily. Brain scans revealed a decrease in amyloid and tau signals in the amygdala and hypothalamus, the parts of the brain that control several memory and emotional functions.

Turmeric has long been considered an effective herbal remedy for many health problems, including mental health problems, and is firmly entrenched amongst the traditional herbal cures in the traditional Indian system of herbal medicine known as Ayurveda. It is believed to strengthen the overall energy of the body, relieve gas, dispel worms, improve digestion, regulate menstruation, dissolve gallstones and relieve arthritis, among other uses.

Modern interest in turmeric began in 1971 when Indian researchers found evidence suggesting that turmeric may possess anti-inflammatory properties. Experts aren’t sure how curcumin wields its effect on memory and mood, but they suspect the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties could have something to do with it since heightened brain inflammation and oxidative stress are both linked to Alzheimer’s disease. 

While more research still needs to be done to clarify how curcumin affects the brain, it’s a natural herbal compound that’s inexpensive, non-toxic and generally considered safe.

That said, if you’re interested in starting a curcumin supplement regimen, talk to your doctor. They can weigh in on exactly how much and how often you should use them. They can also determine if curcumin would interfere with your other medications or worsen any of your medical conditions.