Turmeric may slow multiple sclerosis progression

Preliminary studies in mice suggest that curcumin, a compound found in the curry spice turmeric, may block the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Dr Chandramohan Natarajan, of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, observed that mice injected with curcumin showed little or no disease symptoms, while untreated animals went on to develop severe paralysis.

“We got a very good inhibition of the disease by treating with curcumin,” Dr Natarajan said. He presented the findings at the annual Experimental Biology 2002 conference.

Interest in the potential neuroprotective properties of curcumin rose after studies found very low levels of neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, in elderly Indian populations. Added to this were studies confirming curcumin as a potent anti-inflammatory agent, effective in wound healing. And just last autumn, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles reported that curcumin appeared to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in mice.

In their 30-day study, Dr Natarajan and co-researcher Dr John Bright administered 50- and 100-microgram doses of curcumin, three times per week, to a group of mice bred to develop experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). They then monitored the mice for signs of MS-like neurological impairment.

In contrast, mice given the 50-microgram dose of the curry compound showed only minor symptoms, such as a temporarily stiff tail. And mice given the 100-microgram dose appeared completely unimpaired throughout the 30 days of the study.

The results did not surprise Dr Natarajan. In Asian countries, such as India and China, where people eat more spicy foods and more yellow compounds like curcumin, reports of MS are “very, very rare,” he pointed out. He said the doses the mice received were roughly equivalent in human terms to those found in a typical Indian diet.

Just how curcumin might work to thwart the progression of demyelinization remains unclear. But the Nashville researchers believe it may interrupt the production of IL-12, which plays a key role in signalling immune cells to attack the myelin sheath.

Dr Natarajan stressed that “we have to do a lot of work on this,” including examining other potential mechanisms by which curcumin slows EAE and, potentially, MS.

The work remains preliminary, and MS patients should follow their doctor’s advice when it comes to treating the disease. Still, Dr Natarajan said adding a little curry to the diet couldn’t hurt. “I think using this spice in their food could be of help,” he said.

Source: Reuters Health

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