Spice Spotlight: Turmeric and Multiple Sclerosis

     Most multiple sclerosis patients understand that inflammation can be a real pain in the derrière for our noggins. With demyelinating autoimmune diseases, T lymphocytes - a white blood cell often referred to as a T cell - interpret the protective myelin sheath surrounding our brain and spinal cords' nerves as big, bad, foreign bodies.  These T cells attack the myelin, chomping on it for a little snack.


     As a result, the myelin is destroyed, leaving the neurons inflamed and irritated.  When doctors suspect a demyelinating disease, such as MS, one of the first medications to be prescribed is often a round of steroids, methylpredisone.  Anyone privileged enough to experience the wonder that is predisone would probably like to try alternative tips and tricks for reducing the inflammation and damage that the steroids are used to treat.  Diet is one of these changes that often comes up in discussing other ways of alleviating the symptoms of many different diseases.  For years, specific diets have been designed for multiple sclerosis, such as the Swank Diet, the impact of saturated fats and dairy on MS come up frequently in discussion.  And - of course - anytime that inflammation and diet are considered, spices steal the spotlight.  
     This is where today's star comes in...turmeric!  For anyone who doesn't know, turmeric is a root that is common in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine.  Most of us buy it at the supermarket in its dried and powdered, bright orangey-gold form.  Every naturopathic doctor that I've spoken to strongly urges MS patients to incorporate turmeric into their diet, though none have ever explained the scientific reasoning behind this suggestion.  So I did a little digging of my own...  

          In 2002, the Immunology Division of Vanderbilt University Medical University's Neurology Department performed a study examining the impact of curcumin (the anti-inflammatory substance found within turmeric) on T cell behavior in demyelinating diseases.  I don't know too many people who feel like cracking open an American Journal of Immunology, so here is a more readable, simplified version of what I learned from Chandramohan Natarajan and John J. Bright's study, "Curcumin Inhibits Experimental Allergic Encephalomyelitis by Blocking IL-12 Signaling Through Janus Kinase-STAT Pathway in T Lymphocytes."  

***And now, a quick disclaimer.***
None of the research mentioned below is my own, it is merely my very basic interpretation of the work of Chandramohan Natarajan and John J. Bright presented in a way that is easier for people without a background in hard science or medicine can understand.

     In this experiment, researchers used mice, but you'd be hard-pressed to find mice with multiple sclerosis.  So, mice are injected with an active strain of a similar autoimmune demyelinating central nervous system disease, called experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE).  

     The diseased mice were divided into two groups, an experimental group (received the curcumin treatment) and a control group (did not receive curcumin treatment, EAE was allowed to progress naturally).  Now, other fancy-schmancy-sciency schtuff to the T lymphocytes (T cells), but it was all a bit over my head, to be honest.  The most important thing to know is the conclusion of the experiment:

Lesions in EAE
  • The mice in the control group that did not receive the curcumin developed paralysis in both back legs (a 3.1 on their clinical paralysis scale).
  • The mice in the experimental group that received the curcumin exhibited a significant decrease in the severity and extent of the paralysis (a 0.3 on their clinical paralysis scale).
  • Curcumin decreased the inflammation in the central nervous systems of the mice in the experimental group by 75.9% in those given 50 μg and by up to 95% in those given 100 μg of the curcumin treatment compared to the control group.
  • Curcumin decreased the demyelination in the central nervous system of the mice in the experimental group by 67.7% in those given 50 μg and by up to 90.6% in those given 100 μg of the curcumin treatment.
     Obviously, there is much more to this study than I've mentioned in this post however, it clearly indicates that the curcumin in turmeric does patients with central nervous system inflammation and and demyelination lots of good in battling those symptoms by interfering with T cell behavior.  So stay tuned for some good healthy recipes with turmeric in the next few weeks and thanks for reading!  What foods or ingredients have you incorporated into your diet since your diagnosis?  How have they helped your symptoms?  Thanks for reading!

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  1. Thank you so much for your post and for simplifying the study! I've been taking turmeric pills for 3 months now--lets hope it helps with my disease.

    1. No problem! Thanks for reading. I had just been trying to incorporate the turmeric into my meals, but recently started taking 450 mg pills every morning. I'm already starting to feel better!

  2. Hi Bumpy - It has been a couple of months now. Any noticeable improvements? - JS.

    1. Hello! Unfortunately, I've had a particularly stressful few months which have impacted my symptoms, so I can't say that I feel better than I did prior to starting the Curcumin. I do notice a difference on a day-to-day basis, though. When I forget to take it, I feel especially sluggish and icky; when I remember, I get through the day with less fatigue and aches and pains. I would definitely recommend it! Thanks for reading!


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