If you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, then you probably know that pain, inflammation, and fatigue are just some of the common symptoms. There are some medications that can help your body lower inflammation, but these don’t often help you fight off the pain and fatigue. Instead it is possible to use natural methods to combat pain, fatigue, and inflammation without causing your body more stress. The active compounds in turmeric extract may help to strengthen your body’s natural defense systems while living with an autoimmune disorder.

What is the immune system and what does it do?

The main role of the immune system is to protect against disease and other potential damaging foreign bodies, which include viruses, bacteria, and parasites.

Components of your immune system include the spleen, the bone marrow, lymphocytes, thymus, and leukocytes. You are born with your innate immunity, which includes barriers to foreign threats, and some of its components are skin, stomach acid, cough reflex, and the enzymes in tears.

Adaptive immunity on the other hand, refers to the type of factors that adapt to new threats, which allows the body to “remember” them, and become more efficient at defending us from these.2

So, when you feel sick, run down, or weak, your body is giving a sign of a disease, infection, or an immune disorder that has your immunity working overtime. But it’s not all lost!

26184745 - immune system word circles concept with great terms such as spleen, hormones, antibodies and more.

What causes autoimmune disorders?

Autoimmune disorders largely remain a mystery for doctors, but recent development in genetic studies has shown that some individuals are genetically more prone to autoimmune disorders, as well as environmental factors that could cause them. Ethnicity and environmental exposure tend to affect the risk as well. Lupus, as an example, is seen more in African-Americans and Hispanics, as opposed to Caucasians. Others, like multiple sclerosis and diabetes mellitus, are largely hereditary and passed on generationally.

While the cause is not certain, there are factors that have been proven to increase the risk of these diseases. Some of these include obesity, recurring infections, chronic illnesses, and allergies. It is important to consult your physician if you think you are at risk for any autoimmune disorder, as it can be dangerous if left untreated.

What is turmeric extract?

You’ve probably used turmeric before, especially if you like curry and some Asian foods. The turmeric powder that you commonly see in grocery stores and that you use in your foods is actually the grounded root of the plant. Turmeric root powder only contains 4-6% curcuminoids.

The difference between turmeric powder and turmeric extract is that the latter contains a high concentration of the curcuminoids. The three main types of curcuminoids are curcumin, desmethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin.3 For turmeric to have research-based benefits, it needs to include high amounts of curcuminoid compounds and these found in the highest percentage in turmeric extract.

According to most independent studies, anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits are provided by sufficient amounts of turmeric extract. These studies show you need between 500-2000 mgs of turmeric extract per day, not turmeric powder. Unfortunately, turmeric powder doesn’t contain enough curcuminoids to reach the recommended daily dose used in many studies.

You can learn more about getting the optimal daily dose of turmeric here:

What is the optimal Turmeric dose for inflammation?

Effects of Turmeric Extract on Autoimmune Disorders

Immune disorders often lead to inflammation and pain. When the immune system is not working correctly, either due to genetic factors, environmental factors, or as a result of other diseases, it often attacks itself and causes debilitating symptoms like joint swelling, fatigue, chronic and acute pain, headaches, and more.

High potency turmeric extract can then be used to support these immune disorders because it has the following properties:

  1. Anti-inflammatory: Some of the immune diseases that come accompanied with high oxidative stress include rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes type 1 and 2, and lupus.5 These are diseases with a high inflammatory impact that cause pain, but turmeric extract can reduce these pain markers.
  2. Antioxidant: the ability to fight oxidative stress—a common process in chronic and immune diseases—allows for turmeric to reduce inflammatory markers, leading to less pain and swelling.4

 

In recent years, autoimmune diseases have become more prominent as testing is more widely available. Disorders such as Multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, myocarditis, thyroiditis, and lupus affect up to 5% of the population worldwide. While treatment varies, symptoms can be similar, and lead to systemic inflammation and pain.

Recent studies have shown that curcumin can inhibit some of these signs by regulating inflammatory cytokines such as IL-1, IL-6, IL-12, TNF- and IFN, and the associated JAK-STAT, AP-1, and NF-B, signaling pathways in immune cells.

Rheumatoid arthritis


Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the joints and causes a progressive destruction of the cartilage and bone. The treatment almost always involves non‐steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), glucocorticoids, and disease‐modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARD), among others which can lead to severe side effects.

A study in 2019 enrolled 48 patients with RA and they were randomized into three groups. Fifteen people took curcumin only, fifteen people took curcumin and diclofenac, and fifteen people took diclofenac only for 8 weeks.

At 8 weeks, the results showed that curcumin had more effectiveness at treating pain as compared to diclofenac. The mechanism through which curcumin relieved pain and inflammation in this study included its ability to inhibit the NF‐κB pathway and other inflammatory signaling pathways, such as COX‐2, AP‐1, Egr‐1, STAT (signal transducers and activators of transcription) members and mitogen‐activated protein (MAP) kinases.6

You can learn more about the benefits of turmeric for knee arthritis by reading this article:

How can Turmeric help knee arthritis?

Psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis

Psoriasis is a chronic, inflammatory autoimmune disease that causes skin, sometimes joints, bones, tendons, ligaments, nails, and mucosal membranes, to become inflamed and show lesions. The most common lesion is the “vulgaris,” which is characterized by a round or oval shape covered by white silvery scales. While there are many different topical and oral treatments, these may cause side effects that are uncomfortable and could be painful.

A 2018 meta-analysis review found that two different recent studies showed how curcumin therapeutic efficacy could be attributed to its ability in inhibiting phosphorylase kinases, which are found in higher amounts in psoriatic patients.

Furthermore, animal studies included in this review found at least a 50% decrease in inflammatory factors including TNF-α, IFN-γ, IL-2, IL-12, IL-22 and IL-23.7 The study suggested that curcumin could potentially be a safer and more tolerable alternative to patients suffering from psoriasis.

Multiple sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (CNS). This is one of the most debilitating progressive disorders as it can result in damage to the myelin sheath, slowing down transmission and speed of the messages from the spinal cord to the rest of your body. Symptoms include numbness, weakness, balance issues, pain, and sometimes paralysis.

A 2018 study on the therapeutic potential of curcumin in multiple sclerosis found that curcumin has significant neuroprotective effects in this disease thanks to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, and anti-differentiation mechanisms, as it interacts with various transcription factors, enzymes, inflammatory cytokines, proteins, growth factors, and receptors.

Particularly, curcumin can slow down axon degeneration by inhibiting JNK phosphorylation and release of NO. This same theory was proven by a 2016 in vivo study in which using curcumin on cells experiencing axonal degeneration protected their axons from NO-mediated degeneration.8 This suggests a potential therapeutic role for curcumin in axon protection in MS and other neurological disorders.

Diabetes Type 1

Type 1 diabetes mellitus is also known as autoimmune diabetes, in which the immune system attacks pancreatic isle beta cells. These cells are responsible for releasing insulin when we have a meal, allowing blood sugar levels to decrease as cells take up the glucose. In diabetes type 1 though, little to no insulin is produced, causing incredibly high sugar levels in the blood. High blood sugar can lead to nerve damage, heart disease, kidney failure, infections, coma, and even blindness.

Recent studies have found that curcumin can aid in the regeneration of pancreatic isle cells. A 2013 animal long-term study found that plasma glucose, insulin and C-peptide levels were observed after 4 months of novel curcumin derivative (NCD) treatment in rats. This is significant because individuals with diabetes type 1 don’t have any insulin levels or C-peptide present due to damage to pancreatic beta cells. After 6 months, this same study found that well formed islets and positive insulin cells began to appear.9 While this is an animal model, it could prove to be beneficial in a clinical trial.

Another 2017 study evaluated the efficacy of curcumin derivative J147 as a potent neurogenic and neuroprotective drug candidate, which was initially developed for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

In this study, patients with diagnosed type 1 diabetes mellitus were treated with J127. The biological efficacy of systemic J147 treatment was confirmed as it decreased the TNFα pathway activation and several other markers of neuroinflammation.10 This alternative could help diabetic patients find a tolerable approach to treat diabetic side effects, such as neuropathy.

Inflammatory Bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease typically refers to Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, and it is caused by a lack of regulation in the immune responses in the intestine, causing it to attack itself and resulting in inflammation as well as ulcerations and/or obstructions.

Usual treatment options include aminosalicylates, antibiotics, corticosteroids, antimetabolite immunomodulators, and biologic therapies such as anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) agents (e.g., infliximab, adalimumab, certolizumab pegol) and natalizumab. However, treatment can lead to side effects such as weight gain, fatigue, edema, low immunity, pain, and even kidney or liver damage.

Curcumin has been studied in the treatment of IBD due to its anti-inflammatory capacity. A 2012 meta-analysis review concluded that curcumin has been observed in a variety of animal, in vivo, and clinical models to significantly improve survival and colonic morphology, as well as preventing local cytokine and chemokine production and a reduction in mucosal neutrophil infiltration, all of which are known mechanisms for inflammation.11

A 2015 study on colitis and cancer prevention in mice, found that a curcumin-supplemented diet increased survival, decreased colon inflammation, and could help in motility and digestion, thus improving weight gain too.12

This study could prove to be beneficial in treating IBD, as patients with these disorders tend to lose weight during flares, some even relying on total enteral nutrition through a feeding tube or total parenteral nutrient through a central catheter. Inflammation can also lead to tumor formation, so curcumin could prove to be a good way to prevent chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract.

You can learn more about the benefits of turmeric for the immune system by reading this article:

How Can Turmeric Extract Support the Immune System? 

Additional ways to improve your immune system

In addition to taking turmeric extract daily, you should optimize other lifestyle factors that affect your immune system health. Sometimes we need the reminder to do the simple things.

  1. Exercise regularly: we all have weeks where we’ve felt sluggish and extra tired, but have you actually tried exercising then too? Turns out that if you regularly work out—at least 30 minutes at a time—your immunity will have to work less to reduce inflammation and fight off stressors, plus you’ll be releasing endorphins, which are “make you feel great” hormones.
  2. Drink moderately: what is key here is moderation. When you drink excessively you add oxidative stress, sugar, and inflammation to your body, so keep it to 1-2 drinks a day max!
  3. Spend time with friends and family: this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but socializing and surrounding yourself with a good support network will make you feel happier, and also stronger.
  4. Sleep: we are all busy and running around all the time, but taking the time to sleep at least 7-8 hours a day will allow your body to rest and recharge, which is something your immune system needs constantly.
  5. Eat healthy: yes, diet is everything, and that includes eating your vegetables and fruits, but also why not adds foods that boost your immunity? Make sure you eat your greens, grains, and you guessed it, adding turmeric to that morning smoothie helps you build immunity every time!

What are potential side effects of turmeric?

Since turmeric is a dietary supplement and not a drug, it doesn’t undergo the rigorous studies that pharmaceutical drugs do; however, turmeric curcumin is one of the most researched compounds with over 33,000 references to “curcumin” in the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) PubMed Central database.

Although turmeric curcumin is shown to be safe when taken at higher dosages, there are several situations that warrant further research to determine whether taking a turmeric supplement is right for you.

Blood thinners

Those who take blood thinners such as warfarin or coumadin should not take turmeric extract since turmeric can act as a blood thinner and pose a risk to people who bleed easily.

Drug interactions

Turmeric can alter the absorption of certain prescription drugs by modifying their uptake or metabolism by the liver and intestines. Those who undergoing chemotherapy and radiation should not take turmeric unless they have been specifically advised by their doctor.

Upset Stomach

n several studies using high doses of curcumin/turmeric extract, a lower percentage of participants experienced stomach discomfort, gas, or bloating compared to people who took anti-inflammatories like Diclofenac and Ibuprofen.

You can learn more about the side effects of turmeric by reading this article:

What are the side effects of Turmeric supplements?

Can lead be found in turmeric powder?


The short answer is yes which is alarming. A 2019 study by Stanford researchers discovered elevated levels lead in natives of Bangladesh and there were indicators that their local turmeric supplies were the primary cause of their lead toxicity. Lead is a neurotoxin shown to damage brain and nerve cells in addition to increasing the risk of heart and brain disease.

Many turmeric companies do not send their turmeric to an independent lab to test for lead. If you visit their websites or read their Amazon listings, you won’t find any mention of lead testing.

Picking the right turmeric supplement

When used with a balanced diet, turmeric extract can be better tolerated than over the counter medications such as NSAIDs without putting your body at risk for harmful side effects.5 In the long run, this can be a good way to manage your immune diseases and allow your body to recharge.

With all the choices out there, keep in mind that every turmeric product you see isn’t the same, and this affects whether it will help your immunity or not. Here are three tips to help you pick the right one:

Check the amount of Turmeric Extract on the label

Most of the Turmeric supplements sold on Amazon and in stores do not provide you with the right amount of extract. They usually contain 50-150 mgs of turmeric extract and the rest of their capsules are filled with turmeric powder which is cheaper, less effective and may contain more impurities than turmeric extract. As mentioned before, powder only has 4-6% curcuminoids compared to the extract which has 95% curcuminoids.

Active Atoms contains 750 mgs of turmeric extract which comes out to 712.5 mgs of curcuminoids in ONE capsule making it the highest potency turmeric on the market today.

You would have to take 15 capsules from many turmeric brands to get the same amount of turmeric extract as one capsule of Active Atoms.

The typical profile of Active Atoms Turmeric Extract is 86% curcumin, 6% desmethoxycurcumin, and 3% bisdemethoxycurcumin, combining a high potency mixture of these compounds for better results.

Check for BioPerine®on the label

Turmeric powder has very poor absorption by the body limiting its effectiveness to provide therapeutic benefits. Studies have shown that BioPerine® can improve the absorption of turmeric by 2000%. Active Atoms has 5 mgs of BioPerine®per capsule to enhance the metabolism of turmeric by the body.

Check for lead testing

As mentioned above, lead contamination is a major concern with turmeric products. Although turmeric powder is less likely to have more contamination than turmeric extract, it’s important for your turmeric supplement to be tested for lead.

Prior to the 2019 study, there were reports surfacing about lead contamination in turmeric products which is why we have always sent our turmeric to an independent lab to test for lead in addition to the testing done by our manufacturer. The full lab report is available on the home page of our website.

The Takeaway

If you have questions about your own immunity or think you may be suffering from an immune disorder, definitely go talk to your doctor. A physician will be able to look for signs of these diseases and will be able to advise what route to take. You should also consult with them before taking any dietary supplements you may want to try.

Remember that for better results you need healthy habits, so be sure to sleep well, have a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and focus on your personal health. If you think you are ready to boost your immunity and fight immune disorders you can start with the best turmeric supplement.

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About Dr. Marc Robinson, PT, DPT, Cert. MDT