Preliminary studies in mice suggest that curcumin, a compound found in the curry spice turmeric, may block the progression of multiple sclerosis. Researcher Dr. Chandramohan Natarajan of Vanderbilt University found that mice specially bred to develop an MS-like illness called experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) showed little or no signs of disease symptoms after being injected with curcumin, while animals without the treatment went on to severe paralysis. (EAE is an autoimmune condition used by researchers as a model for multiple sclerosis because it also results in the slow erosion of myelin.)
While theories abound, no clear understanding has yet emerged as to what causes or how to cure multiple sclerosis, an auto-immune disease in which the body's immune system attacks the protective myelin sheath surrounding nerve fibers in the brain and spine. Symptoms of multiple sclerosis include muscle weakness and stiffness, balance and coordination problems, numbness and vision disturbances.
Six hundred and eighty-eight studies, more than 400 of them published within the last four years, confirm curcumin's remarkable anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Within the last year, interest curcumin's potential as a neuroprotective agent have been rising due to:
- Epidemiological studies showing that in elderly Indian populations, among whose diet turmeric is a common spice, levels of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's are very low.
- A November 2001 study conducted at the Department of Plastic Surgery/National Burns Centre, Singapore General Hospital that demonstrated curcumin has excellent potential as a wound healing agent.
- And also last November, a study in the Departments of Medicine and Neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles that reported curcumin appears to slow the progression of Alzheimer's in mice.
In this most recent study of curcumin's potential effects against multiple sclerosis, Dr. Natarajan and co-researcher Dr. John Bright gave injections of 50- and 100-microgram doses of curcumin, three times per week over a period of 30 days, to a group of mice bred to develop the experimental autoimmune disease EAE, and then watched the mice for signs of developing MS-like neurological impairment.
By day 15, those mice who had not received curcumin developed EAE to such an extent that they displayed complete paralysis of both hind limbs. In contrast, mice given the 50-microgram dose of the curcumin showed only minor symptoms, such as a temporarily stiff tail. And mice given the 100-microgram dose fared best of all; they appeared completely unimpaired throughout the 30 days of the study.
The doses of curcumin that protected the mice against the development of EAE were roughly equivalent in human terms to those found in a typical Indian diet. In Asian countries, such as India and China, where foods spiced with curcumin-containing spices like turmeric are common fare, reports of MS are extremely rare.
Just how curcumin might work to prevent demyelinization remains unclear, but Natarajan and Bright, the researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, believe curcumin may interrupt the production of IL-12, a protein that plays a key role in the destruction of the myelin by signaling for the development of neural antigen-specific Th1 cells, immune cells that then launch an attack on the myelin sheath.
To learn more about this beneficial spice, including quick ideas for using turmeric in recipes, click turmeric.
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Natarajan C, Bright JJ. Paper presented at the Annual Experimental Biology 2002 Conference New Orleans, LA April 23, 2002.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 Immun 2002 Apr;3(2):59-70. Kang BY, Chung SW, Chung W, Im S, Hwang SY, Kim TS. Inhibition of interleukin-12 production in lipopolysaccharide-activated macrophages by curcumin. Eur J Pharmacol 1999 Nov 19;384(2-3):191-5.Lim GP, Chu T, Yang F, Beech W, Frautschy SA, Cole GM. The curry spice curcumin reduces oxidative damage and amyloid pathology in an Alzheimer transgenic mouse. J Neurosci 2001 Nov 1;21(21):8370-7.Kang BY, Song YJ, Kim KM, Choe YK, Hwang SY, Kim TS. Curcumin inhibits Th1 cytokine profile in CD4+ T cells by suppressing interleukin-12 production in macrophages. Br J Pharmacol 1999 Sep;128(2):380-4.Phan TT, See P, Lee ST, Chan SY. Protective effects of curcumin against oxidative damage on skin cells in vitro: its implication for wound healing. J Trauma 2001 Nov;51(5):927-31.