As far as health foods go, few natural herbs have received the notoriety of turmeric. With ancient roots stemming from Southeast Asia, turmeric had a rich tradition of serving our ancestors with an abundance of medicinal uses and health benefits.
The Curcuma longa plant is the species of ginger where you’ll find turmeric root, whose extract is a powerful antioxidant known as curcumin. When paired with black pepper (piperine), curcumin’s therapeutic properties take hold with very few side effects. But, can turmeric help manage Parkinson’s disease (PD)?
Turmeric and Parkinson’s
Researchers have successfully linked curcumin to improvements in a wide variety of health conditions. For example, turmeric has shown promise in cancer treatment, lowering blood sugar in diabetes, and helping arthritis and joint pain. It may even contribute to weight loss and liver detoxification.
Recently, studies have suggested that curcumin may also be beneficial for preventing Parkinson’s disease and helping others manage their symptoms. Before we cover the individual trials that have used turmeric for Parkinson’s, it’s essential to understand the condition in a bit more detail. (1)
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s is a disorder of the nervous system that affects body movement and gets progressively worse over time. Often, it begins with a barely noticeable tremor in one of the hands. Even though tremors are common, symptoms of Parkinson’s can also include slowing of movement or muscle stiffness.
Early on, your face may show little to no expression, your arms may not swing while walking, and your speech may soften or become slurred. Currently, there are no known cures for Parkinson’s disease, but there are medications that can improve your symptoms.
While there are many frequently occurring symptoms of Parkinson’s development, these are the most common indications.
- Tremors: A tremor, or subtle but noticeable shaking, typically occurs in a limb, usually your fingers or hands while they are at rest.
- Slowed movement (bradykinesia): Over time, your actions may significantly reduce in speed, making everyday tasks both difficult and time-consuming, such as dragging your feet while walking.
- Rigid muscles: Stiffness and muscle pain can occur in any region of the body, and can limit your range of motion.
- Impaired balance and posture: Parkinson’s disease may hurt overall posture (stooping) and cause you to develop problems with balance and stability.
- Reduced automatic movements: You may notice a decrease in the body’s ability to perform unconscious actions, including smiling, swinging your arms while walking, or blinking.
- Changes in speech: You may speak softly, too quickly, slur your speech, or hesitate before any verbal communication. It’s not uncommon for your voice to become monotone, lacking typical inflections.
- Writing changes: When Parkinson’s progresses, it may become difficult to write legibly, consistently.
Some individuals are also more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than others. Below are a few of the known causes and risk factors.
- Genetics: Researchers believe Parkinson’s may be hereditary. Specific gene variations appear to increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. These genetic markers appear in rare cases when several family members are afflicted with the condition.
- Environmental triggers: Certain toxins and environmental factors may increase your odds of developing Parkinson’s later in life.
- Differences in Brain Cells: The increased presence of “Lewy bodies” in brain cells may hold critical information to the cause of Parkinson’s. Additionally, the protein called alpha-synuclein (a-synuclein) within these Lewy bodies is currently an area of heavy focus among Parkinson’s researchers.
- Age: Parkinson’s disease usually develops in middle or late life, and risk increases with age, often in adults 60 or older.
- Sex: Men are more prone to the development of Parkinson’s disease than women.
Additional complications of Parkinson’s may include depression or emotional changes, difficulty sleeping, blood pressure changes, loss of smell, reduced cognitive function, dizziness or fainting, swallowing problems, fatigue, and several other potential issues. (2, 3)
Why Turmeric Curcumin?
Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, capable of initiating significant positive changes within the body. Its ability to reduce inflammation can help people with Parkinson’s disease cope with some of the stressful symptomologies.
Past studies have also shown that curcumin is beneficial for improving brain health and may even be useful in the treatment of other neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia. For this reason, researchers believe turmeric may also have potential benefits for Parkinson’s.
In this post, we will cover the known studies regarding turmeric’s ability to help prevent and even treat Parkinson’s disease.
Turmeric for Parkinson’s Disease: Can Curcumin Benefit Neuroprotection?
Current evidence suggests a powerful link between Parkinson’s disease (PD) and the brain-gut axis. It seems that gastrointestinal manifestations often precede motor symptoms in PD patients. Increased intestinal permeability and bacterial overgrowth may induce systemic inflammation initiating alpha-synuclein misfolding in the brain.
This discovery points to the possibility of using natural anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric to positively influence the initial steps of Parkinson’s, an age-associated neurodegenerative disease. (4)
As mentioned above, researchers are confident that the abnormal accumulation of alpha-synuclein (αS) within Lewy bodies may be a significant cause of Parkinson’s disease. Chronic exposure to neurotoxins and genetic mutations are known to increase αS aggregation, which leads to oxidative damage and mitochondrial dysfunction.
Studies show that curcumin could alleviate αS-induced toxicity, which helps protect cells against apoptosis (natural cell death). This result suggests potential therapeutic value in using turmeric for Parkinson’s disease. (5, 6)
Further research shows that Curcuma longa extract offers a dose-dependent neuroprotective effect. Treatment with a low concentration of curcumin may help protect against the neurotoxicity induced by salsolinol. Salsolinol is a compound in the brain said to participate in the etiopathogenesis of Parkinson’s disease. (7, 8)
The relationship between neurodegenerative diseases and oxidative stress has been the subject of an abundance of clinical research. It’s commonly thought that antioxidants are a promising natural method for decelerating disease progression.
The imbalance between cellular antioxidant activity and reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation is a major cause of Parkinson’s disease. Studies show that curcumin is highly effective at reducing cellular damage resulting from oxidative stress and can help restore the balance between ROS and antioxidant activity. (9)
To expand on this point further, the depletion of the antioxidant glutathione (GSH) often leads to dopaminergic neuron degeneration in PD patients. One study involving mice showed that curcumin treatment prevents mitochondrial dysfunction, restores GSH levels and protects against protein oxidation. (10)
How to Use Turmeric for Parkinson’s
When using turmeric supplements for Parkinson’s, be sure to stick to the recommended dosage. For other ailments, most studies use between 500-2,000 mg of curcumin per day with almost no adverse side effects or treatment-related toxicity.
However, most over the counter supplements contain 150-250 mg of curcumin per serving, which is usually a safe starting point. Always start with a low dosage, assess the effects, and titrate upwards if needed.
It’s important to note; most turmeric supplements will contain black pepper extract (piperine) to improve nutrient absorption. Turmeric is known to have poor bioavailability, and piperine helps overcome this problem.
As an added benefit, research shows that piperine has a protective effect on dopaminergic neurons. It performs this vital task through anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-apoptotic mechanisms. Therefore, black pepper extract may provide additional therapeutic potential in the treatment and prevention of Parkinson’s disease. (11)
Final Thoughts on Turmeric and Parkinson’s Disease
Can turmeric help prevent and treat Parkinson’s disease? It’s difficult to give a definitive yes, but research appears promising that curcumin can at least have a positive impact. Remember, turmeric is not a cure for Parkinson’s. At this time, there is no cure, only the potential for medications to slow disease progression and reduce symptoms.
Turmeric is an excellent supplement for overall brain health and may help improve antioxidant activity and reduce bodily inflammation. If you’re considering adding turmeric to your daily regimen, always consult with a doctor or certified medical professional to make sure curcumin is right for you.