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Curcumin May Curb the Fearful Memories that Fuel PTSD
Rats fed curcumin couldn’t solidify fearful memories or recall them readily

12/15/2014 By Craig Weatherby
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is commonly associated with soldiers.

Combat is the most common cause of PTSD in men today, simply because of the large number who've been in or around combat since 9/11. Female soldiers are at risk too, but there are fewer of them.

Most PTSD cases occur in response to domestic violence (physical or psychological), rape, assault (actual or threatened), serious car accidents, and natural or manmade disasters.

But not everyone who undergoes a fearful experience gets PTSD, and genetics or life history can raise a person's risk for PTSD.

Animal studies suggest that the risk of PTSD rises when blood levels of stress hormones are chronically elevated, due to chronic exposure to stress … such as in combat zones and abusive households.

Four symptoms define PTSD:
  • Re-experiencing the trauma routinely
  • Chronic muscle and emotional tension
  • Avoiding situations that may be reminders of the event
  • Persistent negative thinking and mood or emotional numbing
People with PTSD feel stressed, anxious, depressed, or frightened even when they're no longer in danger. 

Surprisingly, counseling in the immediate aftermath of trauma may raise the risk of PTSD: see “Post-Trauma Counseling? Thanks, but No Thanks”, and “Trauma Article Draws an Expert Reader's Response”.

As yet, there are no proven drug or natural therapies for PTSD.

However, preliminary animal and clinical studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids from seafood may hold some promise: see “Omega-3s May Help Deter PTSD” and “Omega-3s May Ease Post-Traumatic Stress”.

Prior research shows that curcumin is very good for brain health ... and a new animal study suggests that it may help prevent PTSD.

We'll review that evidence before summarizing the results of the new study in rats.

Earlier studies on curcumin and brain-mood health
The results of prior research into curcumin's effects on brain and nervous system health have been almost uniformly positive.


Five years ago, and again earlier this year, Chinese researchers reported that curcumin largely prevented depression caused by “chronic, unpredictable, mild, stress” or CUMD (Li YC et al. 2009; Zhang L et al. 2014).


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Interestingly, animal studies indicate that other plant compounds hold promise: resveratrol from grapes, garcinol from Kokum tree fruit, piperine from black pepper, and glycosides from peony root (Liu D et al. 2014; Maddox SA et al. 2013; Mao QQ et al. 2014; Mao QQ et al. 2009).
 
Now, an animal study indicates that curcumin – the antioxidant pigment that makes turmeric root orange – may help prevent PTSD and amelioriate its symptoms.

Of course, it's important to stress that the benefits of a drug or food factor (like curcumin) in animals may not apply to people.

Curcumin hindered consolidation and recall of fearful memories in rats
The new animal study was led by Glenne Schafe, Ph.D., professor of psychology at New York City's Hunter College (Monsey MS et al. 2014).

His lab studies the roots of emotional learning and memory, including the kinds of fear conditioning that drive the development of PTSD.

Dr. Schafe's team studies how new fear memories transform into stable, long-term memories, and how retrieval of an old fear memory may be strengthened or weakened, and how exposure to chronic stress alters the consolidation fear memories.

In their new study, the Hunter College researchers found that curcumin impaired the formation of fear memories in rat's brains following a traumatic experience.

As Schafe put it, “We showed that rats fed a diet enriched with curcumin have impaired encoding of fear memories. We also showed that rats with a pre-existing fear memory can lose that memory when it is recalled while they are eating a curcumin-enriched diet.” (HC 2014)

The New York team found that fear memories impaired by curcumin remained weak for a long period, thereby preventing them from “reconsolidating”.

The authors concluded that their findings may have “important clinical implications for the treatment of disorders such as PTSD that are characterized by unusually strong and persistently reactivated fear memories.” (Monsey MS et al. 2014)

We certainly hope so.

Sadly, U.S. patent laws and lack of public funding for clinical trials make it very difficult to gain FDA approval for curcumin as a therapy for anything … despite its obvious promise for multiple health conditions. 
 

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  • Hunter College (HC). Hunter Professor Glenn E. Schafe Discovers New Medicinal Properties of Popular Indian Spice. December 2014. Accessed at http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/communications/pressroom/news/hunter-professor-glenn-e.-schafe-discovers-new-medicinal-properties-of-popular-indian-spice
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