A compound found in the spice turmeric could help slow the progression of the debilitating disease multiple sclerosis (MS), according to preliminary studies on rats.
The compound, curcumin, helped prevent the onset of MS in rats, according to research from the Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Rats in a placebo group contracted the disease and showed severe paralysis, lead researcher Dr Chandramohan Natarajan told delegates at the Experimental Biology conference in New Orleans this week.
The exact causes of MS are unknown, but what is understood is how the disease works - it causes the body's own immune system to attack the nerve fibres in the brain and spine, causing, in extreme cases, paralysis.
Natarajan said that a number of studies had recently been carried out on the effects of curcumin following the revelation that Indian populations had a very low incidence of MS, Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases.
The latest research involved giving injections of 50- and 100-microgram doses of curcumin to a group of rats three times a week for a month. The rats had been engineered to develop experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a disease which is similar to MS in that it attacks the protective covering of the nerve fibres.
After 15 days, the placebo group had contracted EAE, but the 50-microgram group showed only minor symptoms, such as temporary stiffness. The rats in the 100-microgram groups remained unaffected by the disease throughout the entire 30-day period.
Natarajan said that it was still unclear exactly how the curcumin worked in protecting the nerve fibres. He suggested that it might interrupt the production of IL-12, a protein that plays a key role in telling the immune cells to begin their attack. While the study results remain preliminary, Natarajan said that MS sufferers could certainly do worse than adding a little spice to their life.