Research Focusing on Curcumin’s Health Benefits for Brain Aging and Reducing Fatigue [Interview][Transcript]

Prof_Andrew_Scholey_Brain_Curmumin_StudyGuest: Professor Andrew Scholey
Presenter: Wayne Bucklar
Guest Bio: Professor Andrew Scholey is director of the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at Swinburne University, Melbourne. He is a leading international researcher into the neurocognitive effects of natural products, supplements and food components, having published over 170 peer-reviewed journal articles, and 15 books and book chapters. He has attracted over $17 million in research funding, including from industry which allows rapid translation of research into evidence-based end-user health benefits. Scholey has been lead investigator in a series of studies into the human biobehavioural effects of natural products, and their neurocognition-enhancing and anti-stress/anxiolytic properties. His current research focuses on neuroimaging and biomarker techniques to better understand the mechanisms of cognitive enhancement.

Segment overview: In today’s Health Supplier Segment, we are joined by Professor Andrew Scholey. He has been invited as one of the speakers in this year’s Blackmores Institute Symposium 2015 and he will be speaking about the research ‘World First Study: Curcumin For Brain Ageing.’ Published in the Journal of Journal of Psychopharmacology, the study is the first to examine the effects of curcumin on cognition and mood in a healthy older people or to examine any acute behavioural effects in humans. The study found significant benefits to attention, working memory in the hour or so after a single dose. After four weeks the working memory effect was still there and a number of other positive effects emerged. These included significantly reduced fatigue. Professor Scholey will be discussing this topic during the symposium and how this research can best be turned into real health benefits for patients in Australia


Health Professional Radio

Wayne Bucklar: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio. My name is Wayne Bucklar and my guest today joins me from Melbourne in Australia. It is Professor Andrew Scholey Director of the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at Swinburne University in Melbourne. Andrew welcome to Health Professional Radio.

Prof Andrew Scholey: Hello Wayne.

W: Now Andrew I understand you’re speaking at Blackmores Institute Symposium on your research and I think that symposium is coming up on about the 23rd and 24th of this month and I think that’s in Melbourne. So as a bit of a heads-up on what’s you’re going to talk about, can you give us some insight into the work you’ve been doing?

A: Yes. So the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology here at Swinburne is very interest within the health effect or natural products and particularly the cognitive benefits. So the benefits to mood and cognitive functions… mainly in attention and particularly in or including in older individuals. And one of the substances for these things we’ve been studying recently is curcumin, which is a component of the spice turmeric.

W: Okay.

A: And so we’re talking about the health benefits of curcumin.

W: Andrew, when you’re selecting something to put into a research study and I understand this was a double blind placebo study so it’s not something that’s done lightly, what on earth led you to turmeric?

A: Well actually a few things. One is that there is some evidence that bizarrely that people who eat more curry, may be a little bit protected against cognitive decline. So I think it’s worth making it very clear for the outcome, we’re not talking about binary effects here, that if you eat more curry you won’t get Alzheimer’s disease. But certainly if you look at populations, the populations which eat more curry tend to get slightly lower rates of cognitive decline and dementia. Of course there might be numerous third factors which is responsible for that. So for this epidemiological species we call them “population study” that really important tools to conduct clinical trials effective in fact. And these studies have also the studies which we found the effects of curry, also have narrowed that down to turmeric and in particular to components with turmeric called curcumin. And that’s being actually decades of research on curcumin and animal studies and also in human trials looking at health benefits in other context. So for example looking at the way that curcumin can reduce inflammatory or inflammation, including studies for example showing that curcumin can reduce inflammation and increase blood flow. Some of the pre-clinical or animal studies have suggested that curcumin may benefit brain function so that led us to our…

W: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio with Wayne Bucklar. And I’m conversation with Prof Andrew Scholey, the Director of Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at Swinburne University in Melbourne. Andrew’s recently published some research looking at the effects of curcumin on mental functioning. Curcumin is a component in the Indian spice turmeric and we’ve been having a fascinating conversation about how epidemiology studies led to this investigation. Now Andrew this sounds like a serious piece of clinical research, if this was a double blind placebo control study, that’s not something you do lightly.

A: Correct, yes. So I should probably say from the onset that the study was it was sponsored by a company who manufacture the … that we’ve evaluated so it’s very important to disclose that. And the study was actually a part of my PhD student Kate Cox’s study … and it was as you said Wayne it was a placebo controlled double blind study. So we didn’t know what our systems were getting, they didn’t know. So it was actually form from the higher standard possible … And perhaps I could just run you through the study design and what we found. It involves older individuals, so these were 60 to 85 year olds main ages were 68 and 69, and they were healthy. So they weren’t the type looking for people with cognitive decline or dementia, although some of our studies do seek the 65 years old groups, and they were randomized with the either curcumin or a placebo for four weeks. They were tested on a base line, we gave them that first dose of curcumin or placebo, we then tested them an hour and 3 hours half of the first dose just to see there were any so called “acute effect.” And acute effects are the sort of effects that you might get from something like caffeine, unless you take caffeine if you want to feel the benefits within minutes or hours. And then they continued on that for 4 weeks, came back into the lab, we tested them and then we tested them again. So we test them after 4 weeks, to evaluate the so called “chronic effect.” The test involved a series of tests of cognitive function, so we use that some device… to have them in front of the computer which can solve the presentation, which stimulate very carefully and also we’ve recorded those responses in a way that might be experimented … the outcome at all. And but also a number of questionnaires which evaluated their mood and quality of life, and things like fatigue. But what we found was very impressive, some of the result were unexpected, I have to say but very striking. So look to what happened after the various dose of curcumin on how the placebo to curcumin, we found that those in the curcumin group performed significantly better on working manually and attention. So what mainly would equate to everyday task such as remembering a PIN number for example, so you get a new credit card and you easily forget that 4 digit number and you know that you’re gonna have to you … so you rehearse it. So when you rehearse it you’re using manual work and that’s important because work manually is one of the key cognitive domains which deteriorate in aging. And it’s also very closely involved with the kind of…people get which manufacture… well walking to this room, what did I come into this room for, or I went over to take of my phone and I take the phone I can’t remember who I was going to … so for their everyday effects when they’re working manually. And we also found improvement in being able to pick up stimulants so detect a stimulus which requires concentration, the ability to sort of … information. So that’s what we found acutely, then we look at the cognitive side so the effect after 28 days of administration. And there’s a slightly different pattern, so the working manually benefits are still there, but by far the most striking benefits was reduced … Now this was looking at, it was a question added with a very well validated question used to gauge people … over the last week or so. And what we found was those in the curcumin group was significantly reduced fatigue, which is of course is quite important when you could say that a lot of people think about with the things problematic of aging.

W: Yes.

A: And so one thing clearly that people really don’t like about getting older, it’s a sign we do not have enough energy. So that was an important finding I think for us. The third effect which is I think again very, very striking was that when this group of people we find were healthy and older in their 60’s and 70’s actually sit down in front of the computer and undergo tests for their mental ability for 30 or 40 minute in this case, and they find it stressful. So we find it that if you match it for example so… calmness, attentiveness, alertness again using these very standardized test measures that these are reduced whereas … fatigue as well increases which is obviously which is probably not surprising. What we found out when we analyzed the data with the people in the curcumin group seems to be protective against the negative mood effects so they were more calm, more content, and less fatigued by undertaking the test itself. So the things that buffer again, the negative effect of mentally challenging situations or particularly this mental challenging situations. And finally in keeping with literature on curcumin we also found reduction in cholesterol, in particularly the LDL or so called “bad cholesterol.”

W: Andrew you’ve published your results in the Journal of Psychopharmacology and I have to confess I have not often read that particular journal. I’m assuming it’s appearing in your journals, so these results obviously stand up to academic scrutiny.

A: Yeah, I think that’s very important. So the work that we do at the CHP the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, is conducted at a higher standard that we know that we can publish it and high impact peer review journal, so those under the rigorous the peer review. On this work on natural product reviewed with a group of … by our peers. So it’s very important that we make sure that they use the best available methodology. And I have to say what we’re talking about here, a lot of our work involves very well characterized bioactive… so we’re not talking about I really tend to avoid words like ‘alternative medicine and complementary medicine.’ What we’re talking about there are very well characterized experts from that happen to be that resources which has no bioactive … in other words we know that they are reliably affect certain processes, physiological processes within the body. I should also say that curcumin itself, not all curcumin are equal.

W: Uh huh.

A: And one important aspect of this is if you look at the levels of curcumin we use, which is was about 18 milligrams of curcumin which actually you can get by just eating a large … form of turmeric except but when you eat the spice itself, it doesn’t absorb into the body that’s what we call low bioavailability which means and most of it passes through the guts or undergoes degradation in the guts. The particular curcumin that we use is potent and the code name is ‘long beaver’ and it’s free to specific way which increases its bioavailability.

W: And I’m just assuming that if it’s a choice between a tablet and a tablespoon of turmeric, patient compliance is going to be much higher with the tablet.

A: (laugh) Yeah, that’s a very good point. And in fact we had excellent compliance, I think it was 100% in fact, which is found to be very well to Kate Cox our PhD student who conducted the study.

W: Andrew, I understand the cynicism that sometimes people express to me when I’m talking to them. And our audience is mainly hard stream clinical people, and they’re very sometimes very skeptical of the marketing behind some natural products. But on the other hand we have a whole bunch of now well established clinical products like penicillin which started life in the natural realm. So sometimes I think it’s just an attitude nothing that has to change, you know my GP happily prescribes to me fish oil for cholesterol without in any way considering himself to be an alternative prescriber.

A: I think that’s a really good point Wayne and I actually share a lot of skepticism about some natural products but I’m lucky enough to be in the position where I’m able to evaluate the science and in many cases in line without any evidence based requirements but there are also many products out there with an increasing body of evidence which supports the health benefits in there I’m really seeing that I’m part of that.

W: Now time is running a way on us here Andrew but I understand that you’re presenting the results of your published paper at the Blackmores Institute Symposium later this month. Can people get in touch with you if they’ve got a fascination with curcumin along the way?

A: Look, I’m happy for people to contact me probably email is the best way. So you can email me at probably the best email is, so that S C H O L E Y L A B dot com. We’re also always looking for volunteers for our studies, we’ve got ongoing studies looking at or evaluating the cognitive benefits of natural products in healthy people of all ages, and also people who are worried about their memories. So please get in touch with me if you like to able to take part of these studies here in Melbourne.

W: Professor Andrew Scholey Director of Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at Swinburne University in Melbourne, thank you for your time this morning. I understand you’re a busy person and I do appreciate it.

A: Thank you.

W: If you’ve just been listening to us and you’ve just missed my conversation with Professor Andrew Scholey, then you’ve missed a fascinating discussion about work he’s going to present at the Blackmores Institute Symposium on curcumin and its effect in brain aging. However the good news is we have a transcript of this interview on our website, that’s at And you can also hear on SoundCloud and on YouTube the audio archive of our interview. You’re listening to Health Professional Radio, my name is Wayne Bucklar.

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