Updated: Feb 9, 2019
Can a spice as simple as turmeric truly treat depression? According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over 15 MILLION people suffer from depression. Major depression is a common, recurring and chronic illness that negatively affects a person’s quality of life on a daily basis. Millions of sufferers turn to doctors for help and those doctors turn to very powerful pharmaceutical drugs like Zoloft, Celexa, Prozac and Paxil to mask the symptoms and attempt to make the person feel happy and content again. Not only do these pharmaceutical drugs have very damaging side effects to the body, but they are not actually treating the depression or anxiety. They only provide a temporary fix with no cure as a goal.
But what if something in nature, something in a natural food source could be just as effective or even more effective at treating and eliminating depression? Would you believe it? Would you try it? Would you recommend it? Several credible studies have demonstrated that curcumin, the yellow-pigmented substance of turmeric, possesses really incredible antidepressant properties with no health damaging side effects that are associated with depression medications.
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as health advice. Always consult your healthcare professional before starting or stopping any health regimen.
History of Turmeric (Curcumin)
Turmeric is a plant that has a very long history of therapeutic and even medicinal use, dating back nearly 4,000 years. In Southeast Asia, turmeric is used not only heavily as a spice, but is also used as a component in many religious gatherings and ceremonies. Due to its vibrant yellow color, turmeric is also known as “Indian saffron”. As time went on, modern medicine begun to recognize its importance. There have been over 3,000 publications associated with healing properties of turmeric just within the last 25 years! India produces nearly all of the world’s turmeric crop and consumes 80% of it. With its inherent qualities and high content of the important bioactive compound curcumin, Indian turmeric is considered to be the best in the world.
Turmeric (Curcumin) and Depression
If depression sufferers were educated more on the cause of depression, I believe that the cure would be closer in their reach. Adrian Lopresti, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the School of Psychology explains, “People with depression have greater inflammation and oxidative stress, which can affect all major organs in the body, especially the brain. Chronic inflammation can decrease levels of serotonin and dopamine and lead to degeneration in certain brain areas.”
Turmeric is well known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties, so it makes perfect sense that this spice could be an integral part of fighting inflammation and reducing depression symptoms.
One recent study finding support for the antidepressant effects of curcumin was published in October 2014 in the Journal of Affective Disorders. In the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, researchers from several universities in Australia assigned 56 patients with MDD to receive either curcumin or placebo capsules twice a day for 8 weeks. Until the fourth week, each group had similar improvements in scores on the Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology self-rated version. From the fourth week through the eighth week, however, there was a significantly greater improvement in scores in the curcumin group, especially among patients with atypical depression.
Scientists have conducted many other clinical studies demonstrating that circumin in turmeric targets the multiple underlying pathways of depression.
New published human trials found curcumin has similar efficacy to standard antidepressant medication Prozac when absorbed to maximum benefit. These potent results were achieved without the side effects that consistently accompany drug therapy. Curcumin works against depression by promoting neuro-genesis, increasing serotonin, norepi-nephrine, and dopamine levels—and inhibiting inflammation.
Problem With Depression Medications
Why should we go to nature? We don’t those 17 million sufferers just stick to what works? Well, does it actually work at all? Many depressed patients do not respond at all to drug antidepressants and most patients fail to achieve complete remission! Some evidence indicates response rates as low as 17% after taking specific antidepressants!
Also, what about the health damaging side effects? About 63% of patients who take antidepressants experience at least one of the numerous potential side effects which include anxiety, thoughts of suicide, insomnia, weight gain, sexual dysfunction and more. Also, research is not even nearly complete on if there is any lasting brain damage from long-term depression medication use.
Side Effects of Pharmaceutical Antidepressants
There have been at least 119 published studies from 12 countries, as well as 99 drug regulatory agency warnings from 10 countries plus the European Union, together indicating that antidepressants are involved in the following adverse effects:
Abnormal bleeding or bruising
Athisia (severe restlessness)
Blurred vision or vision changes
Crushing chest pain
Decreased memory or concentration
Depression (Ironic, no?)
Difficulty breathing or swallowing
Dizziness or faintness
Heart rate decreases
Homicidal ideation or action
Low white blood cell count
Mania or manic reactions
Numbness in extremities
Risk of breast cancer
Risk of falls
Severe muscle stiffness
Slow or difficult speech
Suicidal thoughts or behavior
Yellowing of skin or eyes
How Turmeric (Curcumin)Fights Depression
Powerful Antioxidant – Curcumin in turmeric is a very powerful antioxidant and has the ability to lower the often very high oxidative stress present in depressed individuals. Antioxidants like turmeric scavenge molecules in the body known as free radicals, which can damage cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death (that affect the brain, leading to a depressive state). Antioxidants like turmericcan fight free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause.
Anti-Inflammatory – Turmeric contains two levels of enzymes that have been known to lower inflammation in the body. It also stops platelets from clumping together to form blood clots.
Neuroprotective – Curcumin in turmeric has been found to enhance nerve growth in the frontal cortex and hippocampal areas of the brain. In one recent study, turmeric has even been shown to not only protect the brain against toxic fluoride, but to heal the brain from its toxic effects. If you want to learn more about fluoride toxicity, read my post, “Fluoride: The Biggest Scam in Dental Health” here.
Neurotransmission in the Brain -Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in brain that transmit signal from one nerve cell to another. An antidepressant tends to raise the level of neurotransmitters in the spaces between neurons called as synapses. Curcumin modulates the level of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine by inhibition of monoamine oxidase (enzyme that degrades these neurotransmitters).
Turmeric Also Helpful For Other Conditions
Turmeric is not only helpful for those who may be suffering from depression or anxiety. Turmeric’s power also makes it an integral spice for many other debilitating conditions such as:
How To Absorb Turmeric: Best Results
There is one major drawback with turmeric and that is that is fat-soluble and is not very well absorbed unless taken with a good fat. Without maximum absorption, it is difficult for curcumin to make it past the stomach, into the small intestine and into the blood where it will deliver the best results. Without this absorption, a lot of the benefits will not be as prominently recognized. After much research, it was discovered that in traditional India, people would always consume turmeric with a fat.
The healthiest ways to do this are to dissolve the turmeric in coconut oil before adding it to a smoothie, sprinkle it on an avocado or toss it in some pure olive oil and fresh veggies. You should also consume turmeric or curcumin with black pepper. “Adding black pepper to turmeric or turmeric-spiced food enhances curcumin’s bioavailability by 1,000 times, due to black pepper’s hot property called piperine,” says nutritionist Stacy Kennedy.
How To Take Turmeric (Curcumin)
There are several ways you can consume turmeric. Traditionally, the Indian culture uses it dried and as a spice in popular dishes. You can also take it as a fluid extract, make a tincture, take it in a capsule or in powder form. The brand that I recommend is in capsule form and called Organic India
Precautions When Taking Turmeric
You shouldn’t use turmeric if you have gallstones or bile duct dysfunction, and pregnant women shouldn’t use it without their doctors’ approval. In rare cases, extended use can cause stomach upset or heartburn. Some evidence also suggests that curcumin can interfere with a chemotherapy agent used to treat breast cancer, so if you’re being treated for this disease, be sure to discuss the advisability of taking curcumin with your healthcare professional.
Is Turmeric (Curcumin) Effective in Treating Depression?
If someone is suffering from depression, turmeric may turn out to be helpful, however more research still needs to be conducted. What we do know is that turmeric has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine and is a potent natural anti-inflammatory agent. Its active constituent, curcumin, has shown promise as an antidepressant in animal models and even some more recent studies with humans. Curcumin also has been found to enhance nerve growth in the frontal cortex and hippocampal areas of the brain, essentially healing the brain and allowing it to function better.
There is no one magic cure for depression. Depression and anxiety are complex, multi-faceted conditions that require a lifestyle and diet change to reduce inflammation and toxins from the body. The most effective forms for regulating or reducing depression and anxiety are to eat a well-balanced diet free of processed sugars, dairy and gluten in addition to regular moderate exercise daily. There have also been much evidence demonstrating that poor gut health is directly linked to mood disorders and anxiety. Always consider a diet rich in natural probiotics or a quality probiotic supplement.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, please always consult a healthcare professional before switching regimens, starting or stopping any current medications.