Curcumin Tolerated Well, but Offers No Relief of Symptoms in Small Trial

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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Curcumin, an antioxidant naturally found in turmeric, was well tolerated by participants in a small Parkinson’s disease clinical trial.

However, trial results did not show evidence that taking curcumin improved quality of life or eased symptoms for Parkinson’s patients.

“Our study failed to show that curcumin can improve the clinical symptoms and quality of life in patients with [Parkinson’s],” its researchers wrote. “However, these results do not demonstrate that curcumin is not clinically effective, highlighting the need for more extensive trials.”

Results were detailed in the study, “Evaluation of curcumin as add-on therapy in patients with Parkinson’s disease: A pilot randomized, triple-blind, placebo-controlled trial,” published in Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery.

Curcumin is a molecule with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that’s best known as the substance that gives turmeric its distinctive yellow-orange color. Preclinical research has explored curcumin as a possible therapy for Parkinson’s, but until now there has not been a formal study in people.

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Scientists at Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Iran conducted a small clinical trial to test nanomicelle curcumin (a formulation of the molecule designed for better uptake in the digestive track) in people with Parkinson’s.

“This pilot, randomized, triple-blind, placebo-controlled trial was designed to evaluate the efficacy of curcumin in the nanomicelle form on improving the motor and non-motor symptoms of [Parkinson’s] patients and their quality of life throughout a nine-month follow-up,” the researchers wrote.

The study enrolled 60 participants, ages 30 and up, whose Parkinson’s symptoms were generally well controlled with standard treatments. Participants’ mean age was 58.2 years, and about 75% were men.

The participants were randomly assigned to take curcumin supplements (80 mg/day), or a placebo, for nine months. A total of 23 participants in the curcumin group and 19 in the placebo group completed the study.

The most common side effect associated with curcumin, reported in 20% of those given the antioxidant, was nausea and vomiting. The researchers noted the side effects could be controlled with common anti-nausea medications, and did not lead patients to stop taking curcumin.

Throughout the study, participants underwent a number of standardized assessments, including the Movement Disorder Society-sponsored revision of the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (MDS-UPDRS), which measures Parkinson’s symptom severity, and the Parkinson’s Disease Questionnaire (PDQ-39), a measure of life quality. In initial analyses, none of these outcomes were significantly different between the curcumin and placebo groups at any point in the trial.

“Our findings showed that adding curcumin to the routine drug regimen of [Parkinson’s] patients does not have a significant effect on improving MDS-UPDRS and PDQ-39 scores compared to those who continue their usual treatment,” the researchers wrote.

Additional analyses indicated some differences in trends over time in motor symptom severity (measured by MDS-UPDRS), but these were not consistently statistically significant.

The researchers emphasized that this was a small trial that enrolled patients with a range of symptom severities. They suggested that larger trials of patients with early disease may be useful for further testing whether curcumin can offer benefits for Parkinson’s patients.