An autoimmune disorder is an inappropriate response of the immune system. Normally the immune system defends and protects the body from infections and other foreign bodies.
When such a component enters the body the immune cells are activated and they release antibodies. The foreign bodies are known as antigens.
Antibodies bind to antigens and terminate the infection. In case of autoimmune conditions, the immune system incorrectly recognizes the own body’s cell as antigens and produces antibodies and inflammatory chemicals against it.
Antibodies bind to the body’s host cells and these immune complexes are deposited which further generate an inflammatory reaction, thus causing damage.
Researchers have identified 80-100 autoimmune disorders and around 50 million Americans are affected by it. Till date treatment in the form of immune suppressants or symptomatic treatment is offered.
How does turmeric help in autoimmune conditions?
Turmeric has been a revered herb since ancient times in traditional medicine. And now even Western science has proven its effectiveness even in case of rare diseases.
One of the principal reasons why turmeric and its pharmacologically active component, curcumin is found to be therapeutic in autoimmune diseases is that they are strong anti-inflammatory agents.
As an anti-inflammatory agent, turmeric brings about the following:
• Inhibits the production of inflammatory chemicals
• Inhibits migration or activation of immune cells
• Modulates biochemical pathways and signals involved in inflammation
What happens in an autoimmune condition is that the body attacks itself by means of immune cells and inflammatory chemicals and turmeric can help in preventing this.
So in this manner it acts as an immune modulating agent and prevents the interaction between autoantibodies and autoantigens (auto means your own body’s components).
Interestingly if required curcumin can enhance antibody response and this is why it is referred to as an immunomodulating agent.
As mentioned previously, the immune cells are responsible for production of antibodies. One such immune cell is effector memory T cell.
Research shows that curcumin can inhibit proliferation of such cells and prevents them from producing pro-inflammatory chemicals. This can help in treating autoimmune conditions.
7 Autoimmune Disorders Turmeric Can Help
Due to its anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory action curcumin can prove to be effective in treating a number of autoimmune conditions.
1.Turmeric benefits in Diabetes
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder which is primarily characterised by high blood sugar levels due to reduced production of insulin.
Type I diabetes is sometimes caused due to autoimmune condition wherein the T cells attack the beta cells of the pancreas leading to insulin deficiency.
Whether insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes is a result of an autoimmune reaction is still under research.
In the research paper Curcumin and Diabetes: A Systematic Review , the authors list various ways by which curcumin can help with diabetes:
• First and foremost, it improves blood glucose control and insulin sensitivity.
• It ameliorates diabetes associated liver disorders and prevents accumulation of fats in the liver.
• It reduces the risk of weight gain.
• It serves to be therapeutic in case of diabetic neuropathy.
• It prevents and treats diabetes related kidney disorder and offers protection against renal damage.
• It prevents diabetes associated heart and blood vessel disease.
Curcumin reduces the dysfunction observed in the pancreatic cells during diabetes.
Its anti-inflammatory action helps in preventing development of diabetes associated complications. It’s antioxidant effects help curb the damaging action of reactive oxygen species.
Not only curcumin but other curcuminoids help in treating diabetes and its related complications. (Read Turmeric for Diabetes)
What does this mean?
Curcumin and curcuminoids exert an anti-diabetic effect and also treat and prevent other diabetes related conditions.
2. Turmeric and Curcumin aid in Lupus & Sjogren’s syndrome
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune condition that affects any organ in the body. It is marked by inflammation and a common symptom of lupus is the butterfly skin rash.
Sjogren’s syndrome is a condition wherein the white blood cells of your body attack the glands that secrete saliva and tears thereby causing a dry mouth and dry eyes.
In an experimental study , it was found that heating curcumin increases its solubility and it binds to proteins.
Additionally it was found that curcumin prevents the binding of autoantibodies to autoantigens in Sjogren’s syndrome and systemic lupus erythematosus.
Another animal study also suggests that highly soluble curcumin and turmeric prevents autoantibodies production in such conditions.
In an animal study , on lupus nephritis (lupus affecting the kidneys) dietary curcumin decreased excretion of protein from urine and also reduced the levels of autoantibodies in the blood.
It also decreased the deposition of immune complexes and the inflammation in kidney tissues. (Read Turmeric for lupus)
What does this mean?
Curcumin inhibits the antibody-antigen reaction in Lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome and this can be of use in ameliorating these conditions.
3. Turmeric helps in autoimmune disorders of nervous system
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune condition which affects the nervous system. Th17 cells, a type of immune cell, are said to be responsible for this condition.
Around 30% of the patients suffering from MS develop paralysis and are bound to the wheel chair for the rest of their life.
It is characterised by breakdown of blood brain barrier and autoimmune attack of the nerves. Curcumin and curcuminoids are thought to be therapeutic for this condition because of their anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective property.
Experimental autoimmune encephalitis (EAE) is an autoimmune condition affecting the central nervous system and its symptoms are similar to that of MS in humans.
In an animal model it was observed that this condition was characterised by increased production of inflammatory chemicals. Treatment with curcumin inhibited this condition and reduced the production of inflammatory chemicals.
Another similar study showed that curcumin reduced the severity of EAE by reducing the infiltration of inflammatory cells in the spinal cord. It also modulated the activity of biochemical pathways involved in inflammation.
Researchers suggest that this activity of curcumin may be useful in treating multiple sclerosis or any other autoimmune condition that is mediated by a particular immune cell called T helper cells.
Autoimmune neuritis is a condition caused by T helper cell and is characterised by inflammation of the myelin sheath or covering of the neurons.
An animal model based on this condition is used to research about Guillian-Barre syndrome. Guillian Barre syndrome is a fast spreading muscle weakness caused by damage to nervous system.
A study showed that curcumin treatment in mice with experimental autoimmune neuritis delayed the onset of neurological symptoms of the disease and reduced the severity.
It also suppressed accumulation of inflammatory cells and inflammatory chemicals. Researchers were convinced that curcumin can help in treatment of autoimmune neuropathies.
What does this mean?
Curcumin’s neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effect helps in brain related autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis, neuritis and Guillian-Barre syndrome.
4. Turmeric and curcumin benefit in psoriasis and scleroderma
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition characterized by red inflamed skin with silver flakes. It occurs as a result of abnormal activation of immune cells (T cells) which cause inflammation and rapid turnover of skin cells.
Curcumin is found to reduce psoriasis like inflammation by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals of Interleukin group.
This effect is found to be equivalent to that of clobetasol, a topical steroid used to treat psoriasis and other conditions.
In a clinical trial patients suffering from psoriasis vulgaris were treated with either Meriva ( a special formulation of curcumin) and topical steroids or only topical steroids for 12 weeks.
Both groups saw a reduction in symptoms however the percentage was higher in the group receiving combination treatment.
Oral curcumin in combination with visible light phototherapy results in a therapeutic response in patients suffering from moderate to severe plaque psoriasis.
Scleroderma is an autoimmune condition involving hardening of skin. Limited scleroderma affects only the skin whereas diffuse scleroderma can affect other organs.
Curcumin is found to suppress fibrosis observed in scleroderma by regulating the activity of a protein called transforming growth factor beta.
It controls cell proliferation and plays an important role in manifestation of a number of diseases.
What does this mean?
Studies suggest that oral or topical curcumin can serve as an add-on therapy for psoriasis and scleroderma.
5. Curcumin helps in autoimmune myocarditis
Myocarditis is the inflammation of heart muscle. Sometimes it can be an autoimmune condition since the viruses causing this inflammation have some similarity with the heart tissue.
Therefore the immune system tends to attack the heart tissue during and after the infection.
It is thought that curcumin by means of its anti-inflammatory property can suppress the activity of inflammatory proteins with the name GATA-4 and nuclear factor-kappaB.
In an animal model of autoimmune myocarditis, curcumin treatment was provided for 3 weeks.
It was observed that curcumin treatment improved the cardiac function. It also reduced the number of inflammatory lesions and suppressed the production of inflammatory proteins like tumor necrosis factor and nuclear factor-kappaB.
The results of this study are indeed promising and warrant the need for more studies to validate the use of curcumin in treatment of autoimmune myocarditis. (Read Turmeric benefits for heart)
What does this mean?
Curcumin offers protection against a number of cardiovascular risk factors. It also reduces inflammation in case of autoimmune myocarditis.
6. Turmeric helps significantly in Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition causing pain and swelling in the joints. The body’s immune system tends to attack the joints and causes inflammation and stiffness in these regions.
A combination of ginger and turmeric extracts is found to be more potent than conventional non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug in treating rheumatoid arthritis.
An animal study showed that disease recovery for rheumatoid arthritis was 10.2% more in turmeric group compared to NSAID (regular painkillers) group and turmeric’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory property were held responsible for this.
Synovial fibroblasts are type of cells present in lubricating fluid surrounding the joints and contribute to spread of arthritis.
Curcumin prevents proliferation of these cells, prevents them from secreting inflammatory chemicals and also causes cell death of such cells. This can help prevent hyperplasia (abnormal cell growth) in rheumatoid arthritis.
A clinical trial reported that patients receiving curcumin 500mg experienced a greater reduction in pain, swelling and tenderness of joints than those receiving diclofenac sodium. (Read Turmeric for Rheumatoid Arthritis)
What does this mean?
Curcumin’s anti-arthritic effect in case of rheumatoid arthritis is better than the conventional treatment carried out by steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory disease.
7. Curcumin and turmeric benefit in Ulcerative colitis
Inflammatory bowel disease consists of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease and these are characterised by inflammation of the intestines.
Oral curcumin is thought to be effective in treating this condition as :
• It promotes formation of antioxidants.
• It scavenges damaging reactive oxygen species.
• It inhibits the activity of inflammatory enzymes.
• It inhibits the activity of master of inflammation process- nuclear factor-kappaB.
In a clinical trial patients suffering from ulcerative colitis were treated with either curcumin in combination with conventional treatment or conventional treatment alone.
Curcumin was given at a dose of 2 gram per day for 6 months. It was observed that curcumin treatment reduced the relapse rate and the dose was found to be safe and effective in maintaining remission of ulcerative colitis.
Overall due to curcumin’s anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties, it is found to a safe and effective add on therapy for ulcerative colitis. (Read Turmeric for ulcerative colitis)
What does this mean?
Oral curcumin in combination with regular treatment for ulcerative colitis helps in preventing relapse and maintains remission.
FAQS on Turmeric & Autoimmune diseases
Here are a couple of questions asked in relation to turmeric’s therapeutic efficacy in autoimmune diseases.
1. Can turmeric heal autoimmune conditions?
Curcumin as well as turmeric have immunomodulatory properties that regulate immune responses and benefit in autoimmune conditions. Some studies suggest that curcumin benefits in certain autoimmune conditions to the extent that regular consumption results in remission and maintenance.
However this depends on the severity of the condition and dosage. Definitely turmeric helps in managing and ameliorating symptoms of autoimmune conditions.
2. Isn’t turmeric an immune booster? Is it safe to take turmeric in autoimmune conditions?
Turmeric and curcumin are immunomodulatory agents –they regulate immune responses. Yes in infectious conditions and weakened immunity, turmeric does boost immunity.
But in autoimmune conditions it regulates immune response and benefits health as evidenced by studies. It is safe to take turmeric in autoimmune conditions.
3. What dose of turmeric should I take for autoimmune conditions?
This depends on the form of turmeric you take. We recommend taking Golden Paste and the details have been highlighted in the Dosage section below.
4. Should I take whole turmeric or curcumin for autoimmune conditions?
We recommend whole turmeric or turmeric powder for arthritis over curcumin as it contains curcumin as well as other therapeutic compounds and also essential oils.
Also certain conditions may require curcumin supplements.In that case it is best to consult a health practitioner about this.
5. Is it safe to take turmeric/Golden Paste with turmeric supplements in autoimmune conditions?
Yes it is safe to take Golden Paste or turmeric in diet when taking supplements; however it is advisable to limit to low doses say 1-2 teaspoon in a day to avoid gastric discomfort.
6. Can I take turmeric with other medications?
Yes it is safe to take turmeric in diet when taking other medications. If taking Golden Paste or turmeric supplements avoid taking it close to the time of taking other medicines.
Maintain a 3-4 hour gap. Also consult a health practitioner before taking turmeric supplements.
7. Can I discontinue other medications by taking turmeric?
Turmeric is not meant to replace professional medical advice and treatment. We recommend seeking your doctor’s advice on this. Certain medications like steroids require tapering and this is possible with appropriate medical advice.
8. How long does it take for turmeric to benefit in autoimmune conditions?
This depends on the individual, severity of the disease, dosage as well as form of turmeric you are taking.
Some individuals experience relief after 1-2 days of taking turmeric while some observe difference in 2 weeks. At a dose of 1 teaspoon of Golden Paste 2-3 times a day benefits should be evidenced within a month’s time in autoimmune conditions.
9. I have taken turmeric for a month or more but I still see no improvement?
If its been a month since you have taken Golden Paste at a dose of 1-2 tsp 2-3 times a day then here are a few things you could do:
• Check whether you are using good quality organic turmeric powder. (For help click here)
• Up the dose.
Lastly you can seek help from a health practitioner about turmeric supplements. Read Taking Turmeric But See No Benefits
10. Are there any side effects or precautions to note about turmeric?
Turmeric when taken in diet in moderate doses is safe. However there are a certain precautions that you should be aware of and these have been discussed below in Precautions section.
11. Should turmeric be avoided in gout?
Low doses of turmeric in diet can be used in gout but for a therapeutic purpose it is preferable to take turmeric supplements upon a doctor’s advice. Please read Precautions section.
12. I am taking a blood thinner, can I take turmeric?
Turmeric in small amounts in diet is safe but turmeric supplements should be avoided in case of bleeding/clotting disorder. It is advisable to discuss this with your doctor.
Dosage of Turmeric For Autoimmune Disorders
There is no prescribed dosage of turmeric for treatment of autoimmune diseases. A good start would be including turmeric in diet.
Turmeric is poorly absorbed in the body hence it is advised to take turmeric with black pepper and/or healthy fats. A great way to take is Golden Paste.
Start with a small dose say ¼-1/2 tsp a day for a week and if no side effects are observed increase the dose gradually.
The ideal dose is around 1-2 tsp 2-3 times a day (precisely 1 tsp 3 times a day); however it depends on you as to what suits you.
Avoid taking it on an empty stomach and close to the time of taking medicines. (Read Does turmeric cause Acid Reflux? Black Pepper in Golden Paste: Does it cause drug interactions?)
If opting for turmeric supplements consult a health practitioner prior. Standardized 95% curcumin with bioperine supplements are generally used in studies.
Turmeric as a part of the diet is absolutely safe. Caution should be exercised if taking turmeric supplements. (Read Side effects of Turmeric)
Certain conditions in which it is advisable to avoid turmeric supplements are:
- Pregnancy and lactation
- Prior to surgery (at least 15 days)
- If taking anti-diabetic or stomach acid reducing medications
- If suffering from gall bladder problems
- If on blood thinning medications
Limit turmeric intake as spice if susceptible to gout or kidney stones. Curcumin as well as piperine (black pepper active ingredient) interfere in drug metabolism therefore avoid taking it concomitantly when taking medicines.
Maintain a 3-4 hour gap and consult a herbalist or naturopath as well.
Always consult a doctor prior to taking turmeric supplements to avoid risk of allergies or problems due to inappropriate dose.
Turmeric and especially curcumin has a number of pharmacological properties such as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-proliferative activity.
Its protective effect in treatment of autoimmune condition has been proven through experimental studies but there is a need for human studies.
Till researchers verify its efficacy in human studies, you can opt for including turmeric in your diet.