Increased intake of curcumin could boost levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in the brain by enhancing its conversion from other omega-3 precursors in the liver, say researchers.
The data, published in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA), explored the possibility that dietary intake of curcumin increases the production of DHA by influencing precursors such ALA and DPA after previous research showed that curcumin prevents reduced DHA content in the brain following brain trauma and that curcumin plus DHA had additive beneficial effects on plasticity, behaviour and brain DHA content.
“The combined supplementation with curcumin plus DHA reduced the brain content of the DHA precursor n-3 DPA, raising the question as to whether curcumin stimulates the synthesis of DHA,” noted the research team, led by senior author Dr Fernando Gomez-Pinilla from the University of California at Los Angeles.
Using a combination of in vitro cell culture tests and animal modelling, the team found that dietary curcumin has the potential to enhance the production of DHA from its precursor, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
“We report novel data showing that curcumin elevates DHA synthesis from omega-3 precursors in liver cells, and that in combination with dietary ALA, curcumin increases DHA content in vivo in both the liver and the brain,” said Gomez-Pinilla and colleagues.
“Enzymes involved in the synthesis of DHA, FADS2 and elongase 2, were concurrently elevated, suggesting that curcumin may increase DHA content, in part, by increasing the pool of enzymes available to facilitate the conversion from either ALA or DPA,” they added.
In addition to identifying the mechanism by which dietary curcumin could increase brain levels of DHA, the US-based research team also report data that suggests dietary intake of curcumin and ALA could reduce anxiety-like behaviours.
Using rat models, the team found that supplementation with curcumin and ALA reduced anxiety-like behaviours.
“Feeding animals a combination of curcumin and ALA elevated DHA content in both the liver and the brain,” said the team. “Furthermore, elevations in brain DHA were closely associated with the reduced anxiety-like behaviour tested by EPM.”
The team also suggested that since the liver is the primary site for most of the DHA synthesis in the body; this raises the question as to whether some of the health effects of curcumin can be attributed to the synthesis of DHA.
“For example, deficient liver biosynthesis of DHA was linked to cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s patients who showed reduced expression of enzymes involved in DHA synthesis,” noted the team.
“These data strongly suggest that curcumin increases the hepatic synthesis of DHA from its precursors.”
Such findings have important implications for human health and the prevention of cognitive disease, suggested the team, adding that the findings may be particularly vital for people eating a plant-based diet or who do not consume fish, a primary source of DHA.
“Taken together, these data suggest that curcumin enhances DHA synthesis, resulting in elevated brain DHA content,” the authors concluded
Source: Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Molecular Basis of Disease
Volume 1852, Issue 5, May 2015, Pages 951–961, doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2014.12.005
“Curcumin boosts DHA in the brain: Implications for the prevention of anxiety disorders”
Authors: Aiguo Wu, et al