The Possible Health Benefits of Turmeric for Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, incurable autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is made up of the brain and spinal cord. In MS, inflammation results as the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective covering of nerve fibers in your brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve called the myelin sheath. This causes neurological problems.

Turmeric is a yellow spice made from the dried rhizomes (underground stems) of the plant Curcuma longa. It is also used in herbal medicine and as a dietary supplement.

Studies show that curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, has therapeutic properties and can act as an anti-inflammatory agent. However, curcumin has poor bioavailability, meaning the body doesn't sufficiently absorb it to be of any benefit.

This article will discuss the possible benefits of using turmeric for multiple sclerosis.

Using turmeric in cooking

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Health Benefits of Turmeric

Turmeric is native to Southeast Asia and is a plant in the ginger family. It is commercially grown in India. The underground stem is used as a spice in cooking and in Ayurvedic, a traditional Indian system of holistic medicine, and other alternative medicine treatments like traditional Chinese medicine.

Turmeric may come in a supplement form and be used as a holistic treatment for many disorders, including those of the skin, respiratory tract, joints, and digestion. Turmeric is considered an effective anti-inflammatory agent and might be used to treat several inflammatory and autoimmune conditions like arthritis and MS.

In one study with rats with induced myelin sheath degradation similar to that seen in humans with MS, researchers treated the rodents with curcumin-loaded nanoparticles at a dose of 12.5 milligrams per kilogram for 10 days and continued for another seven to 14 days when lesions appeared.

Microscopic study of the tissue showed that the curcumin nanoparticles protected the affected lesion areas. There also was a a reduction of inflammation. 

Despite several turmeric studies, health benefits are not definitive. Researchers found that turmeric and curcumin are challenging to study because of curcumin’s low bioavailability when taken orally.

While other studies—both in vitro (in the lab but not in living subjects) and in vivo (in living subjects)—offer evidence of the therapeutic potentials of curcumin, large-scale human studies are required to support the use of curcumin in treating MS in people.

In addition, curcumin products, like supplements, may differ in composition or contain other substances, making comparison difficult and research results inconclusive regarding beneficial health outcomes.

Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient system of medicine based on Hindu philosophical teachings. It continues to be one of India’s traditional healthcare systems. Ayurvedic medicine takes a natural, holistic approach to mental and physical health aimed at balancing five universal elements and three bodily energies (doshas).

Medical conditions are treated with products that are derived from plants but may also include components from metals, minerals, and even animals. Diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes are also major elements of the practice.

Turmeric is used in Ayurvedic medicine because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, suggesting that it can ease pain in certain autoimmune conditions that attack the joints, like MS.

In comparison, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) includes healing practices using herbs, massage, and acupuncture, which are used to treat blocked energy meridians, meaning the energy can't freely flow throughout your body. Although TCM may use acupuncture to treat MS pain, fatigue, and muscle spasticity, small studies show insufficient and inconsistent results.

Conventional Western medicine treats MS with medications to shorten flare episodes (times when symptoms worsen), preventive medications to slow progression, and therapies like medications and physical and occupational therapy to address symptoms.

Naturopathic medicine is a whole-body approach that includes nutrition, lifestyle, Western herbalism, and targeted nutrient therapies, in conjunction with an understanding of conventional care standards. It aims to reduce the inflammatory processes in MS. However, little research has been done to assess outcomes.

Possible Side Effects

Common side effects of turmeric are mainly in the digestive tract and may include constipation, indigestion, diarrhea, a swollen abdomen, acid reflux, nausea, vomiting, yellow stool, and stomachache.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, consuming excessive amounts of turmeric than what's required in recipes or beverages may be unsafe.

Ingesting curcumin with some medications can cause changes in how the medications work. Consult with your doctor if you're taking the following medications: cardiovascular drugs, antidepressants, anticoagulants (blood thinners), antibiotics, chemotherapy agents, and antihistamines.

Whole-plant turmeric is high in oxalates and ingesting therapeutic doses should be avoided in people with a history of calcium oxalate kidney stones (the most common kind).

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Turmeric is used in many Indian recipes and also as a tea, in smoothies, and in herbal supplement capsules or as a paste for skin conditions. Like ginger, you can grate turmeric, slice it, and juice it.

Fresh turmeric rhizomes resemble ginger, but the flesh has a deep-orange color, and its peppery and bitter flavor is stronger than dried, powdered turmeric. To select the best turmeric root, look for firm roots, and avoid soft, dry, or shriveled ones.

To store fresh turmeric, keep it in a plastic bag or an airtight container and refrigerate it, which will keep for a week or two, or you can freeze it for several months.

You can make your own dried turmeric by peeling, boiling, and drying the root, and then grinding it into a powder. Keep in mind that if you either make your own or purchase it already ground, it may lose some of its essential oils and flavor. To store, keep it in a jar in a cool and dry area in your pantry.

Note that turmeric can stain your clothing, so handle with care and consider wearing an apron when using it in cooking.

Turmeric and Herbal Recipes for MS

Joint pain is common among people diagnosed with MS. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric can be a natural way to help with pain management.

You can find many recipes using turmeric in southern Asian cuisine, especially Indian dishes. The spice is easily added to rice dishes and curries. If you prefer to use it in your usual cuisine, adding some to soups, smoothies, or scrambled eggs can be a way to start.

For hot tea, you can find commercially prepared loose tea or teabags with turmeric.

To make your own, add one-third teaspoon of ground turmeric or 1 teaspoon of grated fresh turmeric to 8 ounces of boiling water. Use honey or another sweetener to taste, and some fresh lemon juice. You may also enjoy adding a similar amount of grated fresh ginger root or ground ginger.

Summary

Turmeric and its component curcumin are being studied for their anti-inflammatory properties and possible use in treating multiple sclerosis. Some studies on rats show promise and other studies, in vitro and in vivo, offer evidence of the therapeutic potentials of curcumin. However, large-scale human studies are required to support the use of curcumin in treating MS.

A Word From Verywell

Recognized for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, turmeric is a major spice used in Ayurvedic medicine and as a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatment for MS. However, studies show there aren’t any conclusive health benefits because of its low bioavailability.

If you plan to take turmeric supplements, or another anti-inflammatory supplement like ginger or vitamin D, consult with your doctor to make sure there are no contraindications with your current treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does turmeric affect MS inflammation?

    Turmeric has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It adjusts cell cycle regulatory proteins, enzymes, cytokines, and transcription factors in central nervous system disorders like MS. 

  • How do you take turmeric for MS?

    You can take turmeric orally as a supplement. A therapeutic dose is one to three 500-milligram capsules to be taken with or without food. Higher doses are associated with gastrointestinal side effects.

  • Who should not use turmeric?

    If you are pregnant or lactating, avoid taking turmeric.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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