15 Evidence Based Unique Ways Curcumin Fights Depression

Shruti Baikerikar

(B.E. Biotechnology, PG Clinical Research)
Independent Researcher, Health Writer & Founder of Salubrainous [Full Bio]

curcumin benefits for depression

Name: Curcumin, Turmeric, Curcuma longa , Haldi
Goes well with: Saffron, Ashwagandha, Piperine
Number of scientific references: 70
Level of Evidence: Level III What is this?

Note:Curcumin is clinically proven to rapidly reduce depressive symptoms within 4-8 weeks. Apart from that, this plant molecule has a number of medicinal properties that can help fight depression in multiple ways and improve overall health.

Curcumin is a potential add-on therapy to standard treatment and can improve therapeutic efficacy as well as reduce side effects of antidepressants.

I get to hear this very frequently, ‘You should get out of the house. Maybe a change of air should do you good!’‘May be it does some good but it is not the best suggestion for someone who suffers from severe travel anxiety and depression.

And boy we all wish that there is some ‘superman’ pill which just calms the nerve and gives you some supreme mystical confidence for every occasion; I guess there are some, but it isn’t legal to prescribe them.

Nevertheless, there is this plant-based molecule that is a rage in the health and nutraceutical industry and its called curcumin. It’s an old but famous story that Curcumin is as good as Prozac for depression.

Now I take these curcumin supplements on and off to tackle some nasty ache of some sort, but today I am going over the science behind curcumin’s anti-depressant effect.

Curcumin helps in depression primarily by reducing inflammation, raising antioxidant defenses, regulating neurotransmitter levels and serving as a neuroprotective agent. It can improve the efficacy of antidepressants and help reduce side effects associated with them.

Many pharmacological properties of curcumin can benefit mental health but before we get to that let’s understand this potent plant molecule first.

What Is Curcumin?

I still kind of find it hard to believe that curcumin can calm nerves so easily, but there is quite a bit of evidence that shows that it indeed is a natural anxiolytic and antidepressant.

Curcumin is one of the bioactive compounds found in the spice turmeric. Turmeric has been used in Traditional Indian Medicine for many herbal purposes, but today science identifies that most of its pharmacological properties are attributed to curcumin.

Curcumin exists in combination with two other similar compounds (bisdemethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin) in turmeric, and the combination is known as curcuminoids. They impart the orange-yellow hue to the spice and are natural antioxidants.

Some of its popular pharmacological properties include anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-cancer, immunomodulating, etc. By itself, it is very poorly absorbed in water and requires either fats or black pepper to enhance the absorption.

That is why many curcumin supplements come with Bioperine (black pepper’s active ingredient) or lipids.

Curcumin’s ability to serve as an anti-inflammatory agent, to regulate neurotransmitter and to target many biochemical pathways at the same time make it a novel natural antidepressant.

Suggested Curcumin Supplements For Depression

Please consult a health practitioner before taking health supplements.

There are many formulations of curcumin available in the market that are designed to improve its absorption. You are free to choose any supplement type.

I have listed three supplement types that would benefit in depression and brain health. Please assess your requirements and choose accordingly.

Curcumin with Bioperine supplements

It is the simplest formulation of curcumin that includes standardised 95% curcumin and black pepper extract as well which is proven to improve curcumin’s absorption by 2000%. Black pepper is traditionally used in Ayurveda to enhance drug absorption.

In addition to curcumin, these supplements may contain whole turmeric root which is also good for health. Most users report that this supplement type is beneficial for depression. Please read the ingredient list before purchase.

Curcumin and Bioperine Supplements: Buy from Amazon

Curcumin and Bioperine Supplement: Buy from iHerb

 

BCM-95 Curcumin Supplements

BCM-95 is a patented formulation developed by DolCas Biotech LLC and Arjuna Natural Extracts Ltd.

This formulation contains curcumin in combination with turmeric essential oil and is found to be 5-7 times more bioavailable than plain curcumin.

It provides 86% curcuminoids and 7-9% essential oils. It is used in clinical studies for depression and is found to be as effective as curcumin and bioperine combination. Please read the ingredient list before purchase as the product may contain soy.

Life Extension Super Bio-Curcumin
 biocurcumin supplement Buy from Amazon

Buy from iHerb

Image Credit: Life Extension

Image Credit: Life Extension

Longvida Curcumin Supplements

This patented formulation is developed by UCLA scientists and Verdure Sciences. It is designed specifically for brain health.

It packs curcumin in a fat soluble matrix (Solid Lipid Particle Technology) and is 65 times more bioavailable than standard curcumin. It provides only 80mg curcumin for every 400mg formulation. Please read the ingredient list before purchase as the product may contain soy.

Nutrivene Curcumin Longvida
 longvida suppplement Buy from Amazon (US, UK, Canada)

Buy similar product from iHerb (Global)

Image Credit: Nutrivene, International Nutrition, Inc.

15 Evidence Based Unique Ways Curcumin Fights Depression

Over 100+ studies are recorded in Pubmed which investigate how beneficial curcumin could be in a depression. (If you want to know what happens in the body during depression, please read Understanding Depression)

1.Curcumin acts on neurotransmitters- the interesting chemicals in brain that dictates our mood

Three neurotransmitters are strongly studied about depression – serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These chemicals are a way of communication by the neurons, and they regulate our sleep, appetite, mood and many other aspects.

Antidepressant therapy is designed focused on these neurotransmitters.

When I first came across evidence that curcumin regulates neurotransmitters, I found it hard to believe. The kind of antidepressants that are prescribed conventionally are either precursors to these neurotransmitters or somehow fit into the biochemical pathway that synthesizes these brain chemicals.

Curcumin is nowhere close to that regarding structure or action. And it is not synthesized in our body; it is plant derived.

Kulkarni et.al investigated the mechanism of action of curcumin as an anti-depressant. It was observed that it regulated the levels of serotonin and dopamine.

Also, in combination with antidepressants, it resulted in a synergistic effect and also reduced the dose of antidepressant required for a therapeutic effect.

Everyone is aware of the famous study that compares curcumin to Prozac. Perhaps that is what got you here in the first place.

This study reported that curcumin and fluoxetine/Prozac treatment resulted in highest response (77.8%) followed by fluoxetine group (64.7%) and curcumin group (62.5%).

Lopresti et.al have reported that curcumin at a dose of 1000mg can help relieve depressive symptoms, especially in atypical depression after 4-8 weeks of treatment.

Quick Gist: Neurotransmitters play an essential role in brain function and are the major targets for antidepressant therapy. Curcumin regulates these neurotransmitters thus protecting cognition and relieving depressive symptoms.

2.It is a natural anti-inflammatory agent

One of the features observed in depression is inflammation, and recently some specialists are emerging with this concept that depression is an inflammatory disorder and treating inflammation is just as necessary as balancing brain chemicals.

A study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that ‘Inflammation and depression fuel one another.’

Inflammation is triggered in response to physical injury and infection. But little did we know that the daily dose of our peer’s derogatory comment can ignite an inflammatory cascade. Yes social stress, including adversity, is also known to trigger an inflammatory response.

A meta-analysis of 58 studies revealed that some pro-inflammatory substances namely interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein, are secreted in higher levels of major depression compared to non-depressed individuals.

Curcumin has gained a lot of attention regarding scientific research primarily because of its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activity.

Most of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs act on specific enzymes or pro-inflammatory agents, but interestingly curcumin acts on as many as 20+ molecular targets in the body to curb inflammation.

Animal studies confirm that curcumin mediates its anti-depressive action by reducing brain related inflammation.

Now there is a study in humans as well that proves this point. This study was published in Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 2015.

108 individuals suffering from depression enrolled in this study. They were asked to take two capsules of curcumin (1000mg) or placebo daily for six weeks and in combination with standard anti-depressant therapy.

A significant reduction in depressive symptoms was seen in the curcumin group. Additionally a decrease in inflammatory markers such as interleukin 1β and tumor necrosis factor α was also observed.

Quick Gist: Inflammation in depression is evidenced by high levels of pro-inflammatory enzymes circulating in the system of depressed individuals. This could also explain why depressed individuals complain of pain, rheumatism, etc.

Curcumin has strong natural anti-inflammatory property that can help alleviate depression by reducing inflammation.

3.It promotes Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor – a protein tonic for brain cells

As the section title suggests, Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor is a protein that is essential for survival and development of brain cells.

Research suggests that there may be a link between the level of inflammation and BDNF level which could affect the status of immunity in major depression.

A study published in Brain Behavioral Research, 2012 found curcumin’s anti-depressant equivalent to fluoxetine and the mode of action involved was an increase in BDNF levels.

Yu et. al also demonstrated that chronic supplementation of curcumin 1000mg for six weeks in addition to antidepressant therapy led to a reduction in depressive symptoms and also increased BDNF levels.

Quick Gist: BDNF or Brain-derived neurotrophic factor is an essential protein that promotes survival and development of brain cells. In depression, BDNF levels are reduced.

Curcumin is found to elevate BDNF levels which help reduce depressive symptoms.

4.It is a natural antioxidant

Inflammation and oxidative stress go hand in hand. Oxidative stress is an imbalance between prooxidant and antioxidant agents in the body.

A study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2015 states that the level of oxidative stress can predict the depression status and also influence the effectiveness of antidepressant therapy.

A meta-analysis study from PLoS One, 2015 supports the idea that certain antioxidant related parameters are lower in depressed individuals while the level of oxidative damage products is high.

Curcuminoids are natural antioxidants. As antioxidants, they raise the level of antioxidant enzymes, scavenge free radical species ( a certain active group of molecules that cause oxidative damage and destruct cell and tissue) and inhibit other reactions that cause oxidative stress.

Animal study suggests that curcumin’s antioxidant action can help combat stress-induced anxiety and boost memory.

Research suggests that curcumin’s antioxidant action is one of the ways by which it mediates anti-depressant and neuroprotective properties.

Quick Gist: Oxidative stress or imbalance in antioxidant levels is observed in depression. Curcumin is a potent natural antioxidant and can protect from oxidative damage in depression.

5.It attenuates anxiety and stress

Depression always brings along with a state of anxiety. One can’t describe anxiety, but it is somewhere close to abnormal and excessive worrying.

Various animal studies indicate that curcumin’s anti-anxiety effect is achieved by modulation of neurotransmitters.

A study published in Brain Research Bulletin, 2015 reveals that it can attenuate stress-induced anxiety and even protect from stress-induced cognitive deficits and memory lapse.

Studies in humans also demonstrate that curcumin supplementation at a dose 500-1000mg can relieve anxiety and reduce stress levels.

Quick Gist: Curcumin ameliorates anxiety and stress by regulating the levels of neurotransmitters.

6.It protects cognition and memory

Depression is not just about repetitive feelings of sadness and despair, but somewhere it also affects one’s analytical and decision making capability. In fact, it changes the whole way you used to see the world.

Certain phytochemicals or plant-based agents can restore normal cognition in depression, and curcumin is one of them. It does so by regulating the levels of neurohormones and certain growth factors that support neuronal health.

Similarly, its antioxidant activity is found to strengthen memory in the face of stress like situations.

A study examined the effect of curcumin supplementation in an elderly population about cognition and mood. An acute administration which is 1-3 hours after dosage was examined and effects of chronic dosage were also assessed.

Within 1 hour of administration and improvement in attention and working memory was observed. Fatigue induced by stress was attenuated, and state of calmness was induced by chronic curcumin treatment.

Quick gist: Curcumin not only serves as an antidepressant but also protects the brain’s vital functions such as thinking, learning, and memory.

7.It is a natural painkiller

Depression, in many cases, presents with pain. This could be anything ranging from back pain to a headache or even spasmodic pain.

One of the reasons for this could be that inflammation is a part of depression, and chronic inflammation can trigger pain.

An animal study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2011 confirms the role of curcumin in alleviating pain in depression.

This study demonstrated that depressive behaviors lead to an increased level of pro-inflammatory substances and chemicals associated with pain sensation. It dose-dependently reduces these changes at biochemical as well as behavioural level.

Sahebkar et. al conducted a review of 8 clinical trials that assessed the efficacy of curcuminoids as analgesic or painkillers. Curcuminoids significantly reduce pain and are found to be well tolerated.

Curcumin’s painkiller activity is comparable to that of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, diclofenac and even aspirin.

Curcuminoids also have the anti-spasmodic property that can help relieve stomach ache.

Quick Gist: The so-called somatic symptoms or symptoms like chronic back pain or stomach ache etc. experienced in depression can be relieved by curcumin’s analgesic properties.

8.Curcumin protects stomach health in depression

Various studies have confirmed the prevalence of dyspepsia or gastrointestinal disorders in major depressive disorder.

This highlights the role of gut-brain axis. It is a connection between brain and gastric function. Yes, I am talking about the stomach cramps you face before an examination or interview.

Gut microbes or the healthy microbes in the intestine that help in digestion, offer the first line of immunity, etc. are also involved in the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA. And that explains its link with depression.

Curcumin protects the stomach from stress-induced ulcers and digestive difficulties occurring in depression.

Quick Gist:  Curcumin regulates the gut-brain axis, and this can help improve gastric and digestion related symptoms in depression.

9.It protects from sleep deprivation induced deficits

Insomnia or inability to sleep is a common symptom of depression. That state, where anxiety levels reach a peak and your mind is so full of thoughts and fear that you just can’t fall asleep, is physically and mentally exhaustive.

Sleep deprivation not only causes fatigue but can affect decision making, aggravate pain and inflammation, and even increase the risk of developing infections.

Kumar et.al conducted an animal study wherein they found that curcumin’s antioxidant activity can attenuate sleep deprived deficits. It raised the level of antioxidant enzymes and prevented weight loss, impairment of movement and other anxiety-like effects.

The study demonstrated that it inhibited the action and production of nitric oxide.

Nitric oxide is a simple molecule but plays a very important role in many biological processes. Research indicates that nitric oxide is a vital factor that regulates sleep and neuronal activity during sleep.

Quick Gist: Sleep deprivation and insomnia is common in depression. Curcumin is proven to attenuate sleep deprived cognitive deficit and weight loss.

10.It is a neuroprotective agent

Neuroprotection or brain protective agents are necessary for treatment of psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders.

Cognitive dysfunction is a state where it is difficult to think straight, the occurrence of memory lapse, lack of attention and difficulty in decision making; it does occur when the brain cells or neuronal activity affected.

Curcumin is a neuroprotective agent; it protects brain cells in neurodegenerative conditions and even psychiatric conditions.

Animal studies demonstrate that it not only exerts antidepressant activity but also offers neuroprotection. It protects brain cells from toxicity and cell death by increasing the level of Brain-derived neurotrophic factor which supports neurogenesis.

Quick Gist: Curcumin offers neuroprotection in depression- it protects brain cells and attenuates cognitive dysfunction.

11.It supports neuroplasticity

Major depressive disorder may result in loss of neurons or brain cells. This is because depression leads to a state where the levels of neurotransmitters and proteins required for brain function are lowered, and this makes the environment unfavorable for neurons to thrive and develop.

Research shows that exercise and combination of certain antidepressants could support neurogenesis or development of new neurons or brain cells. It still hasn’t been confirmed whether neurogenesis is possible in adulthood.

Scientists have identified that curcumin may exert an antidepressant effect by supporting development and growth of brain cells. Animal study shows that curcumin protects from stress, reverses the ill effects of stress and even supports neurogenesis in memory retention areas of the brain.

Kim et. al state that it may support neuroplasticity- the ability of the brain to develop and repair itself.

Quick Gist: Curcumin supports neuroplasticity and this may help the brain repair in conditions like depression as well as neurodegenerative diseases.

12. It regulates the HPA axis to relieve depressive symptoms

One important aspect is the HPA axis or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. HPA axis is an intricate communication between three endocrine glands- hypothalamus, pituitary gland and adrenal glands and this communication regulate mood, stress levels, digestion, etc.

HPA axis dysfunction leads to secretion of cortisol- a stress hormone and high cortisol levels have been observed in patients with major depression.

A 6-week study of curcumin as an add-on therapy in depression reported a reduction in depressive symptoms as well as salivary cortisol levels.

Quick Gist: Curcumin can restore the delicate feedback mechanism of HPA axis . This reduces production of stress hormones and reduces depressive symptoms.

13.It potentiates the action of antidepressants

An animal study reveals that curcumin acts synergistically with antidepressants-fluoxetine, venlafaxine, or bupropion. It also reduced their dosage levels required to observe a therapeutic effect.

A study published in Clinical Neuropharmacology, 2013 investigated the effect of the addition of curcumin as an add-on therapy to antidepressant therapy.

500mg curcumin or placebo was given in addition to antidepressants like escitalopram or venlafaxine for a period of around 11 months. No difference was observed in both groups regarding therapeutic outcomes.

But the individuals in curcumin group experienced a rapid relief in depressive symptoms compared to placebo group. No adverse effects were reported.

Yu et.al also investigated the effect of curcumin as an add-on therapy in depression.

Individuals were asked to take 1000mg curcumin or placebo in addition to standard antidepressants. A significant decrease in depressive behavior and inflammation with curcumin treatment was observed; no significant adverse effects were mentioned.

Curcuminoid-piperine mixture (1000mg and 10mg respectively) is proven to be a safe and effective add-on therapy to standard antidepressant treatment.

Many health websites recommend not taking curcumin in combination with antidepressants. It is mentioned that the additive action of neurotransmitter regulation of curcumin as well as antidepressants may have side effects.

No study as such proves this, but it is important to note that curcumin interferes with drug metabolism. So taking it concomitantly with any medication including antidepressants could affect drug absorption which on long term could have side effects.

So it’s good to consult a health practitioner before taking curcumin supplements and maintain a 3-4 hour gap between taking curcumin and any medication.

Based on current evidence it can be concluded that curcumin is safe to be taken when on antidepressant therapy; however more research is required to assess its effect with different antidepressant types.

Quick Gist: Studies show that curcumin as an add-on to standard antidepressant therapy leads to a quick and significant reduction in depressive symptom and reduces inflammation.

It is best to consult a health practitioner before taking curcumin supplements and maintain a 3-4 hour gap between taking curcumin and any medication.

14.It balances immunity in depression

Our brain controls every function in the body, and one cannot ignore immunity. Neurotransmitters and hormones regulate important immune functions, and it is thought that imbalance between proteins involved in immunity could be responsible for depressive symptoms.

Immune system dysfunction even fuels inflammation.

Curcumin is an anti-inflammatory which can help in attenuating inflammation in depression. Also, it has immunomodulatory property- it can regulate immune responses in favour of one’s health.

An animal study reports that it alleviates depressive symptoms in chronic stress by increasing the levels of proteins required for brain function such as BDNF and CREB. And this, in turn, may affect the HPA axis favorably and reduce stress.

Quick Gist: Curcumin regulates immune system responses to reduce inflammation and levels of stress hormones in depression.

15.It can help fight disorders that trigger depression

Certain health conditions can be chronic and pave for stress and depression. Curcumin has multiple pharmacological properties that benefit in almost every condition.

Curcumin by its immunomodulating or immune response regulating property benefits in autoimmune conditions like lupus which has been strongly linked with depression.

Turmeric’s gastroprotective action and ability to reduce inflammation and alleviate low moods benefits in conditions like IBS.

Turmeric is a natural painkiller, and this makes it beneficial in a condition like fibromyalgia.

Quick Gist: Curcumin’s multiple pharmacological properties like anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties help treat and manage conditions that could trigger depression.

What Is The Dose Of Curcumin For Depression?

Curcumin supplements are available in many formulations. This is primarily to increase the absorption of curcumin in the body. It’s poor water solubility, and rapid metabolism impairs its absorption in the body.

The most commonly available curcumin supplements are standardized 95% Curcumin with Bioperine. The Bioperine or piperine is the active ingredient of black pepper that aids in the absorption of curcumin.
You can opt for these.

BCM-95, a formulation that combines curcumin with turmeric oil has also shown good results in depression.

Many studies have used a dose of 500-1000mg curcumin per day. You can consider consulting a health practitioner with regards to the dosage and formulation of curcumin supplements.

Precautions with Curcumin Use

Curcumin is a relatively safe compound. Research has shown that doses as high as 12g are safe. However, these are studies conducted over a short period and studies have not evaluated long-term safety (by long term I mean more than a year).

It may trigger acid reflux like symptoms so avoid taking it on an empty stomach. Also if taken after meals the dietary fat may aid in absorption.

Start with low dose curcumin supplements and increase the dose gradually to avoid any gastric issue.

Curcumin has anti-platelet activity, so if taking blood thinners or suffering from bleeding risk high dose curcumin may not be safe for you. Also, it is recommended to discontinue turmeric supplements two weeks prior to any surgical procedure to minimize bleeding risk.

Curcumin causes gall bladder contraction and hence if you are suffering from gallstones or active gallbladder obstruction this level of contraction may be painful and should be avoided.

Curcumin supplements should be avoided in pregnancy and lactation. Avoid it in the case of allergy to turmeric.

Curcumin interferes in drug metabolising enzymes’ activity and hence should not be taken concomitantly with any medication. A 3-4 hour gap should be maintained.

Consult a health practitioner before taking curcumin supplements.

Conclusion

Curcumin indeed has all the characteristics to be a natural, safe and effective antidepressant. Not only does it regulate neurotransmitters to alleviate stress and anxiety but also combats inflammation.

It helps protect brain cells and even helps maintain stomach health. Moreover, its medicinal properties can even help in conditions in which depression is a secondary symptom.

Have you tried curcumin for depression? Do share your feedback below with other readers.

Know the numerous evidence based benefits of curcumin for depression.

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