Curcumin is the compound found in Turmeric that gives the spice its bright yellow color. The spice comes from the root of the plant. Turmeric is mostly grown in India and often used in Indian cuisine.
Mechanism of action:
Curcumin is thought to work in depression in a few ways. Curcumin decreases inflammation. Depression is associated with a chronic, low-grade inflammation that damages the brain over time. Curcumin also decreases the stress hormone, Cortisol. Chronic stress is harmful to brain. Curcumin increases a compound called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF can be thought of as a “fertilizer” for brain cells. It helps the cells to grow stronger and link to other brain cells. Finally, it may have some monoamine oxidase inhibition, just like the MAOI antidepressants.
(1) A study in India assessed 60 patients with depression. The patients were treated with the antidepressant Fluoxetine 20mg, Curcumin 1000mg or a combination of both. The Hamilton Depression Rating Scale was used to assess changes in the symptoms of depression. The response rate was 62.5% in the Curcumin group, 64.7% in the Fluoxetine group, and 77.8% in the combination group. This evidence shows that Curcumin was as effective as a prescription antidepressant medication and had additive effects when they were used in combination. This is very important because there are many patients who I have seen that have had some relief with an antidepressant medication, but they still need greater improvement. Having a supplement that has additive effects to prescription medication is great news in the treatment of depression.
(2) A study in China assessed 108 male adult patients with depression. The patients were treated with either Curcumin 2000mg or placebo for 6 weeks. The patients also continued on there regular antidepressant medications during the trial. Curcumin produced significant antidepressant effects as compared to placebo. Additionally, inflammatory chemicals called cytokines and the stress hormone cortisol decreased while brain-derived neurotropic factors were increased in the patients using Curcumin. This study further shows the potential benefits of Curcumin use.
Natural medicines database deems that Turmeric is likely safe. Curcumin is not recommended if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Turmeric has quite a few interactions with medicines. Please check with a healthcare provider before using Turmeric products. Turmeric may have anti-platelet effects so be careful if you are taking a blood thinner or antiplatelet medication. Curcumin may decrease blood glucose so be careful if you are on diabetes medications. Turmeric may interact with certain cancer and anti-rejection medications. Turmeric may decrease the effects of a specific enzyme in the liver called CYP3A4. If CYP3A4 breaks down a medication that you are taking, then the medication level can become elevated!
Curcumin is generally well tolerated. The most common side effect is gastrointestinal complaints. Some itching, edema and allergic effects are possible.
Curcumin may decrease the absorption of iron. Be careful if you have anemia or take an iron supplement.
I bought and tried the BCM-95 Curcumin from Progressive Laboratories. Each capsule contains 800mg of Curcumin. I have taken it twice daily. I didn’t experience any side effects other than a single Turmeric burp. The Curcumin seemed to keep my mood slightly higher. I did not notice any drop in mood and felt a tiny bit better while taking it. It also seemed to take a while to get the effect. I felt mostly normal for the first week and then felt a slight improvement after that.
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1. Sanmukhani J, Satodia V, Trivedi J, et al. Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Phytother Res. 2014 Apr;28(4):579-85.
2. Yu JJ, Pei LB, Zhang Y, et al. Chronic Supplementation of Curcumin Enhances the Efficacy of Antidepressants in Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2015 Aug;35(4):406-10.