Today the Daily Express leads with this headline: Eat CURRY to beat Alzheimer’s: THIS spice boosts memory and may stop onset of dementia.
Now it’s safe to say I am sceptical of this. Curcumin, found in turmeric (hence the link to the curry) is a real trigger-point with many scientists as, despite countless suggestions in the headlines that it can be a miracle cure for almost anything that ails you (Alzheimer’s, cancer and lupus all in 2018…), there is currently no evidence of any effect in humans (see this useful blog for a summary). “But why not at least try it? What’s the harm?”. Well unfortunately curcumin has the unenviable history of actually killing someone due to unregulated use. So I’m on the back foot with this already but it’s important to look through this article nonetheless, let’s break it down using the HYH toolkit.
- The title is indeed outrageous. People living with dementia were not tested at all and there is no way they can make these claims. Additionally, no-one was given any curry. They were given a pill containing curcumin which is a substance that is in an ingredient that is in curry. Making this link is false.
- Reading further things look up. The research has been published (but there is no link) in a reputable journal and it does appear to be open-access. Thumbs up.
- The study is well-designed. The trial (done in humans ) included randomisation and blinding and the discussion section of the paper includes a healthy segment on the (many) limitations of the study.
- There is a quote from an impartial source which provides an excellent voice of reason – pointing out that these are early-stage results and that no-one should be taking curcumin just yet.
- There is definitely an issue with correlation-causation. The paper essentially makes the statement. Indians eat curry. Indians are less likely to develop dementia. Therefore curry stops dementia. This is backed up by some weak studies with poor statistics and is a dangerous point to make.
As usual this is actually a fairly well-written article with a naff headline. Another classic hallmark is some excited quotes of how great the study is – by the lead author. One example is this “Studies indicate a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s in Indian people who consume curcumin in curry.” – which is misleading as I point out in number 5 above.
Overall we can make the usual (but boring) conclusion – interesting study, more research needed. I’m going to give this a 4/10 (7/10 without the headline).