There is mounting evidence that as you become depressed, a vital part of your brain, the 'hippocampus' shrinks. (The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for the formation and retrieval of memories and for learning.) There have now been several studies showing this, with one of the biggest studies out just yesterday. Interestingly, we also see this change take place in the context of stress. Stress is known to lead to depression.
Shrinkage in this part of your brain is associated with falling levels of a brain 'fertility pill' known as Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor or BDNF. BDNF encourages the birth of new brain cells. If its levels fall, we see fewer connections forming between brain cells and the volume of the region decreases or 'shrinks'.
If new brain cells stop being born within this specific part of the brain (the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus) and this region is damaged, we see this manifest as anxiety, a low mood, poorer memory and learning abilities and clinical depression.
So what can we do to reverse or protect against this brain shrinkage? One of the single most natural things out there that may protect us from - and in theory, even reverse - this shrinkage can be found on the spice rack at your local grocery store - the spice 'turmeric'. A study published earlier this week showed that turmeric (its main ingredient curcumin) actually boosts levels of BDNF in the very same region of the brain that shrinks in depression. This supports accumulating evidence that turmeric improves both memory and mood.
You can find turmeric on the spice rack at any grocery store. Taking it with fat and black pepper will help you to absorb it well. There is no study that tells us the dose at which you should take the spice, but given most studies on turmeric began with epidemiological observations of reduced Alzheimer's Disease in the Indian subcontinent where turmeric is generously used without known toxic effects, you can probably be quite generous with your dosage!
Studies on the benefical effects of turmeric in a wide range of disease states continue to pile up. It has been shown to have anti-tumour effects, anti-inflammatory effects and even anti-microbial effects. One of the first studies on the anti-tumour effects of turmeric showed positive results in the context of treatment-resistant ovarian carcinoma and this drew attention towards its potential effects on other types of cancers. One of the most recent studies on its anti-cancer potential has shown promising results in the context of advanced skin cancer, malignant melanoma.
So take turmeric to boost your hippocampus and you might be bringing yourself a whole lot of other benefits, too!
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