Multiple Sclerosis with Natural Remedies: How Could Curcumin Work in MS
About five years ago I interviewed a young woman (let’s call her Rose) with multiple sclerosis who was managing the disease with natural remedies. One of those remedies was curcumin, a compound present in the curry spice called turmeric.
Back then, there was little in the way of scientific evidence to support the use of curcumin for treatment of multiple sclerosis. One study that both Rose and I discussed was research in which mice had been bred to develop experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE; an MS-like condition used as a research model because it is characterized by slow loss of myelin).
In that study, conducted at Vanderbilt University, the animals who were treated with curcumin demonstrated mild to no signs or symptoms of the disease while the untreated mice developed severe paralysis. The doses of curcumin given to the mice were roughly translatable in human terms to what is normally consumed in the course of an Indian diet.
A second study was performed more recently, and it also involved an animal model (rats) with EAE. This time, the authors showed that use of curcumin significantly reduced the severity of the disease, interfered with the infiltration of inflammatory cells in the spinal cord, and reduced the activity of various cytokines (involved with immune function). Based on their work, the authors concluded that “curcumin is useful in the treatment of multiple sclerosis and other…cell-mediated inflammatory diseases.”
The results of these studies, along with reports from scores of studies showing that curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties (although the studies did not specifically concern multiple sclerosis) were enough for Rose to include this spice in her diet and treatment plan.
More studies on curcumin and multiple sclerosis
It’s a sad truism that the vast majority of research monies are targeted for the development of patentable, profit-making prescription drugs while natural substances are largely ignored. Some researchers are pressing forward, however.
In a 2011 review appearing in Molecular Neurobiology, the authors discussed how nutraceuticals obtained from spices such as turmeric, black and red pepper, ginger, garlic, and others target inflammatory pathways. These pathways are key in the chronic inflammation characteristic of various neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
At Tehran University, a team explored the effect of curcumin on astrocyte cells, a type of glial cell recently believed to play an active role in central nervous system inflammation. The study involved exposing human astrocyte cells to the spice.
Curcumin reduced the release and/or activity of various factors involved with neuroinflammation (e.g., interleukin 6, MMP-9 enzyme). The investigators concluded that curcumin could be a “new therapeutic agent with the potential of regulating astrocyte-mediated inflammatory diseases in the CNS.”
How curcumin may work in MS
How could curcumin help fight multiple sclerosis? In the Vanderbilt University study, Drs. Natarajan and Bright suggested that the spice might interfere with the production of interleukin 12 (IL-12), a protein intimately involved in destroying myelin. IL-12 triggers the development of certain immune cells (Th1 cells) to attack the myelin.
In the review published in Molecular Neurobiology, the authors pointed out that while the exact mechanisms behind curcumin’s benefits are not known, research suggests it can reduce activity and expression of negative factors for MS (e.g., interleukin-12 receptor beta 1 and 2 expression, which are involved in inflammation) and enhance positive ones (e.g., production of interleukin-10; levels are low in MS patients).
Unfortunately, there is still much we do not know about the use of curcumin for multiple sclerosis in humans. However, use of this herbal remedy for other inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis have yielded good results, and EAE animal studies have been promising.
No dosage of curcumin for multiple sclerosis has been determined. For individuals treating inflammation, the suggested dose is 400 to 600 mg of a standardized powder taken three times a day. Never take curcumin without first discussing it with your healthcare provider, as this herb has blood-thinning properties and can lower blood sugar levels. Although curcumin is generally safe when taken as directed, long-term use may cause stomach upset or even ulcers.
Kannappan R et al. Neuroprotection by spice-derived nutraceuticals: you are what you eat! Molecular Neurobiology 2011 Oct; 44(2): 142-59
Natarajan C, Bright JJ. Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma agonists inhibit experimental allergic encephalomyelitis by blocking IL-12 production, IL-12 signaling and Th1 differentiation. Genes and Immunity 2002 Apr; 3(2):59-70.
Natarajan C, Bright JJ. Curcumin inhibits experimental allergic encephalomyelitis by blocking IL-12 signaling through Janus kinase-STAT pathway in T lymphocytes. Journal of Immunology 2002 Jun 15; 168(12): 6506-13
Panahi Y et al. Curcuminoid treatment for knee osteoarthritis: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Phytotherapy Research 2014 Nov; 28(11): 1625-31
Seyedzadeh MH et al. Study of curcumin immunomodulatory effects on reactive astrocyte cell function. International Immunopharmacology 2014 Sep; 22(1): 230-35
University of Maryland Medical Center
Xie L et al Amelioration of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis by curcumin treatment through inhibition of IL-17 production. International Immunopharmacology 2009 May; 9(5): 575-81