Curcumin Helps Depression

By: Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
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Two new human studies and a review study of the science demonstrate that curcumin has significant anti-depressant properties.

The review study explains that polyphenols, such as curcumin, are highly protective to the structure and function of brain cells. By helping the brain have less friction they help to modulate and improve the flow of neurotransmitters. This is a different mechanism of operation than traditional pharmaceutical anti-depressants, which try to prop up the supply of neurotransmitters regardless of the current level of friction (inflammation) that is interfering with nerve transmission.

The use of such polyphenols represents an important new type of anti-depressant strategy, indicating that a less inflamed brain is likely to transmit signals better. I also might add that other studies show it is also likely to help a person age less and have better memory. The researchers review many polyphenol nutrients in addition to curcumin, including quercetin, resveratrol, nobiletin and proanthocyanidins (such as blueberries). They conclude, “There is an exciting prospect in the discovery of natural polyphenols as therapeutic agents in the treatment of major depression.”

In the second study 40 patients participated in a 5-week, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. The subjects had experienced a first bout of major depression. They were treated with either 500 mg per day of curcumin or a placebo. While both groups made improvement, the patients in the curcumin group experienced a more rapid relief of depression symptoms. The researchers felt a higher dose of curcumin is likely needed for even better results.

In the third study 60 patients participated in 6-week randomized, controlled study. The subjects were all diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD). 20 were treated with 1000 mg of curcumin alone, 20 were treated with Prozac, and 20 were given both. 77.8 percent responded to curcumin/Prozac treatment, 64.7 percent responded to the Prozac treatment, and 62.5 percent responded to the curcumin treatment. Curcumin was essentially as effective as Prozac, without any of the adverse side effects of Prozac. The researchers concluded, “This study provides first clinical evidence that curcumin may be used as an effective and safe modality for treatment in patients with MDD without concurrent suicidal ideation or other psychotic disorders.”

An important point to understand is that brain friction and wear and tear are often going on at levels lower than cause depression. Managing the wear and tear trend in your brain is important, as most clinical problems of depression or cognitive decline take years to build up and often manifest only after a major stressful event (the straw that breaks the camel’s back). The better you proactively manage the “friction trend” in your brain the more likely you are to maintain a positive mood, as well as being better able to cope with higher-stress events.

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