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Curcumin Could Preserve Walking Ability Among Spinal Cord Injury Patients

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A curry spice may do more than just add some flavor to your dishes -- it could also help to preserve the ability to walk in people who've had a spinal cord injury, according to a new animal study.

Published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that consuming lots of omega-3 fatty acids -- which have a myriad of health benefits, in their own right -- and curcumin -- found in the curry spice turmeric -- is linked with maintenance of brain functioning and reparation of nerve cells after damage to the spinal cord.

"While surgery can relieve the pressure and prevent further injury, it can't repair damage to the cells and nerve fibers," study researcher Dr. Langston Holly, an associate professor of neurosurgery at the UCLA School of Medicine, said in a statement. "We wanted to explore whether dietary supplementation could help the spinal cord heal itself."

The study was done in rats who all had something similar to the human cervical myelopathy, which is a spine-related disorder that affects walking. One group of rats was fed a diet high in sugar and saturated fats (mimicking a Western diet), while the second group of rats was fed the same diet but with docosahexaenoic acid (found in omega-3s) and curcumin. The third group of rats was just served a regular rat diet.

Then, the researchers examined how the rats walked week after week. Even after as little as three weeks, researchers found that rats that just ate the saturated fat and sugar diet had more walking problems than the other rats, while rats with the DHA and curcumin had fewer walking problems after six weeks of observation.

Researchers also wanted to see how the diets may have impacted the actual spinal cords. They found that the rats fed the saturated fat and sugar diet had more evidence of damage to the cell membrane. Meanwhile, rats that were fed the DHA and curcumin only had evidence of as much damage as the rats fed the regular rat diet.

In 2010, UCLA researchers published a study in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics showing that curcumin could actually make chemotherapy more powerful against tumors in the head and neck, MyHealthNewsDaily reported.

Specifically, curcumin seemed to enhance cisplatin, which is the chemo drug used to treat those specific cancers, according to MyHealthNewsDaily.

And earlier this year, researchers from Chiang Mai University found that curcumin may help to lower the risk of heart attack among recent heart-bypass patients when taken alongside the normal drug treatment regimen, Reuters reported. That study was published in the American Journal of Cardiology.

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