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Turmeric (Curcumin) & Multiple Sclerosis - the benefits and impact on your diet

What benefits can turmeric, the bright coloured curry spice that is popping up in coffee shops, bring?

Turmeric

Turmeric is a very widely used spice and a common ingredient in kitchen cupboards around the world with a strong golden/orange color. You may recognise it from your curry, it comes from the root of a plant which is cleaned, is cured, dried and then ground into a fine powder. Turmeric is becoming a popular health trend from golden milk to turmeric and ginger ‘shots’, but has been used for many years in Hindu, traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. 

  • Curcumin is a naturally occurring compound which gives turmeric its vibrant pigment. 

  • Turmerone is also present in turmeric and some studies suggest turmerone can support cognitive performance due to neuroprotective properties (discovered in animal studies)1. These experiments are in their infancy and we do not yet know whether turmerone would have the same effect on stem cells in people and therefore whether there is a benefit to people who have MS. 

Health benefits of turmeric

Along with a rich history of turmeric use in medical practices, epidemiological data suggests that the lower incidence of gastrointestinal cancers in India may be due to diets rich in curcumin.

There is some, but not a huge volume of research currently into the benefits of curcumin for MS2,3, and there are also studies into Alzheimers, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and colon, stomach, lung, breast, and skin cancers.

Studies have reported curcumin as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant agent that could modulate cell cycle regulatory proteins, enzymes, cytokines, and transcription factors in CNS-related disorders including MS. 

How much tumeric should I take in my diet?

A therapeutic dose is 500–2,000 mg of curcumin per day — this is the amount  used in studies. A therapeutic dose is what you need to see any real benefit. This is often in the form of an extract which has a curcumin concentration that is much higher than the amounts naturally occurring in the powder you add to your food. It would be very difficult to reach these levels just using the turmeric spice, although it still obviously has taste and color benefits in your food. For example, on average, an Indian diet can have 60–100mg of curcumin (consumed in 2,000–2,500 mg of turmeric powder). In the absence of long-term toxicity studies in humans, this dose may be considered suitable when curcumin is used for long periods of time

Additionally, to get the benefits from turmeric, it is advised to take it along with a meal including fat or at the same time as taking your flax oil supplementation – as turmeric is fat soluble.  Combining the curcumin in turmeric with black pepper, which contains piperine, has been shown to increase curcumin absorption.  

High doses of turmeric and curcumin are not recommended long-term since research confirming their safety is lacking. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has determined 1.4 mg per pound (0–3 mg/kg) of body weight an acceptable daily intake. 

Are there any negative effects of turmeric?

The amount present in your golden latte, curry or shot is very unlikely to cause any problems. Turmeric usually does not cause significant side effects; however, some people can experience stomach upset, nausea, dizziness, or diarrhoea at daily doses exceeding 1,000 mg5,6. In one report, a person who took very high amounts of turmeric, over 1500 mg twice daily, experienced a dangerous abnormal heart rhythm4.

Turmeric and curcumin supplements should not be taken if you have any biliary (gallbladder or liver) diseases. Turmeric has also been linked to interactions with some conventional medicines. Piperine (in black pepper which is often taken to help absorb curcumin) is also an inhibitor of some drugs.

If you do choose to take a curcumin supplement, make sure you purchase any food supplements from a trusted source, as quality and safety can vary widely. It is also worth checking the curcumin levels. 

In summary, keep enjoying your golden almond lattes, but it may be just the colour and taste that you are getting the benefit of for now. The research isn’t there yet to recommend routinely supplementing your diet with curcumin.


References: 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4180255/ 
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20828641 

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29079885

  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19892416
  5. https://www.sps.nhs.uk/articles/turmeric-potential-adverse-effects-and-interactions/

  6. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/ijc.24967

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