Medical Matters > Can Turmeric/Circumin help with ME/CFS?

ME Essential Summer 2017

Question

There is little evidence to indicate that herbal and Plant remedies are of any value in treating ME, or ME symptoms, and can sometimes cause harm. But there are some interesting reports on the internet forums from people who say that they have been helped by taking turmeric. And I believe that there is also some interesting research evidence to show that it can help to reduce inflammation — which could be of benefit in ME. Do you have any views on this?

Answer

Turmeric is a spice that is often used in Asian cooking. The root of the plant it comes from contains a chemical called curcumin, which can be used to make medicine. This is then sold in capsule form and is widely available from health shops and some pharmacies.

We receive occasional feedback from people with ME/CFS on the therapeutic use of turmeric/curcumin. However, as with almost all anecdotal reports, there is a mixed response. Some people have reported that turmeric/curcumin can help with some of their ME/CFS symptoms whereas others find no benefit. A few people report side-effects.

As there have not been any clinical trials to assess their safety and efficacy in ME/CFS, we really don't know if it could be of genuine benefit here. There is, as you say, interesting research that has examined the therapeutic properties of curcumin and it appears to have some genuine anti-inflammatory effects.

So turmeric/curcumin may help in anti-inflammatory conditions like arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and possibly even ME/CFS — perhaps by its effect on what are called proinflammatory cytokines (immune system chemicals that cause and maintain inflammation).

Turmeric/curcumin is also capable enhancing serotonin levels in the brain (a ‘feel good' chemical transmitter) affecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is involved in ME/ CFS, where it regulates the level of the hormone cortisol. The research review that follows, although primarily about MDD, contains relevant information about the effect on the HPA and the interaction with serotonin and cortisol.

As with any substance that has therapeutic actions, turmeric/curcumin can have side-effects — so there are situations where it is best avoided. These need to be considered before using it (see WebMD below).

More information

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER

Medical Matters is for information purposes only. The answers provided by Dr Shepherd and the ME Association’s other expert advisers should not be construed as medical advice. We recommend that any information you deem relevant is discussed with your GP as soon as possible. It is important to obtain advice from a GP who is in charge of your clinical care, who knows you well, and who can consider other likely causes for symptoms. Seek personalised medical advice whenever a new symptom arises, or an existing symptom worsens. Don't assume that new or worsened symptoms are a result of having ME/CFS.

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