Spice May Fight Multiple Sclerosis
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters Health) - Preliminary studies in rats suggest
that curcumin, a compound found in the curry spice turmeric, may
block the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS).
According to researcher Dr. Chandramohan Natarajan of Vanderbilt
University in Nashville, Tennessee, rats with an MS-like illness
showed little or no signs of disease symptoms after being injected
with curcumin, while animals without the treatment went on to severe
"We got a very good inhibition of the disease by treating with
curcumin," Natarajan told Reuters Health. He presented the findings
here Tuesday at the annual Experimental Biology 2002 conference.
No one knows what causes multiple sclerosis, 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.
Interest in the potential neuroprotective properties of curcumin
rose after studies found very low levels of neurological diseases
such as Alzheimer's in elderly Indian populations. Added to this
were studies confirming curcumin as a potent anti-inflammatory
agent, effective in wound healing. And just last fall, researchers
at the University of California, Los Angeles reported that curcumin
appeared to slow the progression of Alzheimer's in mice.
In their 30-day study, Natarajan and co-researcher Dr. John
Bright gave injections of 50- and 100-microgram doses of curcumin,
three times per week, to a group of mice bred to develop a disease
called experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE)--an autoimmune
condition used by researchers as a model for multiple sclerosis
because it also results in the slow erosion of myelin. They then
watched the rats for signs of MS-like neurological impairment.
By day 15, rats who had not received curcumin developed EAE
to such an extent that they displayed complete paralysis of both
hind limbs, according to Natarajan.
In contrast, rats given the 50-microgram dose of the curry compound
showed only minor symptoms, such as a temporarily stiff tail.
And rats given the 100-microgram dose appeared completely unimpaired
throughout the 30 days of the study.
The results didn't really surprise Natarajan. "In Asian countries,
such as India, China, who are eating more spicy foods, more yellow
compounds like curcumin...there are only very, very rare reports
of MS," he pointed out. He said the doses the rats received were
roughly equivalent in human terms to those found in a typical
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, a protein that plays a key
role in signaling immune cells to launch their assault on the
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,
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
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