Alleviating Depression Symptoms With Turmeric

  • Saasha Govender Diplomas in Journalism, Human Nutrition, and Effective Writing, Alison
  • Irenosen Addeh Master of Science (MSc), Public Health, University of Debrecen, Hungary

Known for its vibrant colour and sharp taste, turmeric is at the helm of the spice kingdom. But its benefit isn't beneficial to the pallet alone. Research shows that turmeric has several properties that can benefit the body and mind. 

Focusing more on the mind, turmeric has shown promise in alleviating symptoms of depression. This is primarily through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Let's look at this in more detail below. 

What is turmeric?

Turmeric or curcumin is a bitter golden-orange spice from the ginger family. The spice comes from the root of a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant and even looks similar to ginger.

The spice has long been recognised as a culinary wonder, but its therapeutic properties have taken centre stage in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. These medicinal effects come from the active properties in turmeric called curcumin

According to studies, curcumin has the following properties:

The antidepressant effect of curcumin is linked to its ability to influence neurotransmitters like serotonin (happiness hormone) and dopamine (reward hormone) in the brain.1 These neurotransmitters play a primary role in mood regulation.

Imbalances of these hormones are often associated with conditions like depression.2 Curcumin's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties also contribute to its potential antidepressant effects. 

Oxidative stress and inflammation present in the brain have been linked to the development of depressive disorders.3 By reducing inflammation and oxidative damage, curcumin may help protect the brain and relieve the symptoms of depression.

Research suggests that curcumin can potentially enhance the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).4 This protein promotes the growth and maintenance of nerve cells. Low levels of BDNF are associated with conditions like depression.5 

Substances like curcumin, which can increase its levels, are considered beneficial for mental health.

Tumeric vs depressive symptoms?

Research investigating curcumin found that it positively affects various body and mind functions that are linked to depression.6 These functions include: 

  • Oxidative stress
  • Stress response
  • Insulin resistance
  • Neurotransmitter levels
  • Inflammation of brain plasticity
  • Endo cannabinoid system.

A comprehensive review of several studies found that curcumin has a positive effect on both 

depression and anxiety.7 The results showed that consistent administration of curcumin as a part of treatment plans can improve depressive symptoms in those with major depressive disorders (MDD). 

Curcumin works in a similar way to depression drugs. Drugs typically target serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine, neurotransmitters linked to depression. Tumeric has been shown to increase dopamine and serotonin availability.

It does this by controlling monoamine oxidase (MAO). A transmitter that keeps all the neurotransmitters in balance or regulated. Further research examining the effects of turmeric suggests curcumin normalises the levels of these neurotransmitters in depressed individuals.8 

This solidifies the possibility that depression symptoms can be alleviated with turmeric. However, more extensive studies are needed to solidify the findings. This means that turmeric cannot be taken as a primary treatment option for depression. 

However, it may be helpful to integrate it into your treatment plan or lifestyle, as it may help improve the effectiveness of depression treatment.

Turmeric and antidepressants

Evidence suggests curcumin may work well with antidepressant medications.9 A study investigating this included depressed male participants aged 31 to 59. These men took two capsules daily a 1000mg curcumin pill or a placebo (a dummy pill with no medicinal effects). 

This was taken along with antidepressant medication for six weeks. The results showed that chronic curcumin supplementation produced significant antidepressant behavioural responses. The curcumin group showed improved mood and decreased inflammation and stress levels. 

This suggests that adding curcumin to treatment plans could enhance the effectiveness of antidepressants, reducing depressive symptoms. Another review of clinical evidence came up with similar findings. 

It demonstrated the potential benefits curcumin brings to the table as a standalone therapy and in combination with other antidepressant medications.10

How to use turmeric for depression 

Using turmeric for potential relief from depression involves incorporating it into your daily routine. Here's a simple guide:

  • Add to Meals: Sprinkle turmeric powder into your cooking to enhance the flavour of various dishes. It goes well with soups, stews, rice, and scrambled eggs.
  • Golden Milk: Create a soothing turmeric drink known as golden milk. Mix turmeric powder with warm milk, a dash of black pepper, and honey for sweetness. Drink this mixture before bedtime.
  • Turmeric Tea: Make a potent brew of turmeric tea by adding a teaspoon of ground turmeric to boiling water. You can add lemon juice/slices and/or a bit of honey for taste.
  • Smoothies: Blend turmeric into your morning smoothies. Combine it with fruits like bananas, berries, or mango for a delicious and nutritious drink.
  • Turmeric Supplements: If you find incorporating turmeric into your diet challenging, consider turmeric supplements. These supplements often contain curcumin, the active compound in turmeric.

Possible risks and side effects

Turmeric is considered safe when taken at the effective recommended dose of 1000mg daily. However, high doses may pose risks for specific individuals. Some of the risks and side effects include:

  • Liver toxicity 
  • Potential allergic reactions
  • May worsen other health conditions (gallbladder disease or diabetes)
  • Breastfeeding and pregnancy (safety has not been established for high doses)
  • Interactions with other medications like blood thinners, antiplatelet drugs or anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Gastrointestinal issues (stomach ache, diarrhoea, nausea)

Summary

The active component, curcumin, has been extensively studied for its impact on critical key neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which are crucial players in mood regulation. The potential of curcumin to influence these neurotransmitters holds promise for enhancing mood regulation and improving depression symptoms. 

Practical ways to use turmeric for depression relief include adding it to meals, creating golden milk, brewing turmeric tea, blending it into smoothies, or considering turmeric supplements. While turmeric is ‌safe, you should be cautious of side effects and potential risks.

To avoid negative treatment outcomes, ensure you don’t have any allergies, interactions, or contraindications lurking. Although its effectiveness has been proven, the spice doesn’t have the green light to be used independently to tackle depression. 

However, it can be used alongside anti-depressants. Studies showed positive results from the combination, but running it past your doctor before jumping in is best.

References 

  1. Ramaholimihaso T, Bouazzaoui F, Kaladjian A. Curcumin in depression: potential mechanisms of action and current evidence—a narrative review. Frontiers in Psychiatry [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2024 Feb 2];11. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/journals/psychiatry/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.572533
  2. The Jackson Laboratory [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 2]. Happy or SAD: The chemistry behind depression. Available from: https://www.jax.org/news-and-insights/jax-blog/2015/december/happy-or-sad-the-chemistry-behind-depression
  3. Lopresti AL, Hood SD, Drummond PD. Multiple antidepressant potential modes of action of curcumin: a review of its anti-inflammatory, monoaminergic, antioxidant, immune-modulating and neuroprotective effects. J Psychopharmacol [Internet]. 2012 Dec [cited 2024 Feb 2];26(12):1512–24. Available from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0269881112458732
  4. Franco-Robles E, Campos-Cervantes A, Murillo-Ortiz BO, Segovia J, López-Briones S, Vergara P, et al. Effects of curcumin on brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels and oxidative damage in obesity and diabetes. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab [Internet]. 2014 Feb [cited 2024 Feb 2];39(2):211–8. Available from: http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/10.1139/apnm-2013-0133
  5. Porter GA, O’Connor JC. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and inflammation in depression: Pathogenic partners in crime? World J Psychiatry [Internet]. 2022 Jan 19 [cited 2024 Feb 2];12(1):77–97. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8783167/
  6. Ramaholimihaso T, Bouazzaoui F, Kaladjian A. Curcumin in depression: potential mechanisms of action and current evidence—a narrative review. Front Psychiatry [Internet]. 2020 Nov 27 [cited 2024 Feb 2];11:572533. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7728608/
  7. Fusar-Poli L, Vozza L, Gabbiadini A, Vanella A, Concas I, Tinacci S, et al. Curcumin for depression: a meta-analysis. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition [Internet]. 2020 Aug 21 [cited 2024 Feb 2];60(15):2643–53. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10408398.2019.1653260
  8. Chang XR, Wang L, Li J, Wu DS. Analysis of anti-depressant potential of curcumin against depression induced male albino wistar rats. Brain Res [Internet]. 2016 Jul 1 [cited 2024 Feb 2];1642:219–25. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainres.2016.03.010
  9. Yu JJ, Pei LB, Zhang Y, Wen ZY, Yang JL. Chronic supplementation of curcumin enhances the efficacy of antidepressants in major depressive disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology [Internet]. 2015 Aug [cited 2024 Feb 2];35(4):406. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/psychopharmacology/Abstract/2015/08000/Chronic_Supplementation_of_Curcumin_Enhances_the.9.aspx
  10. Zhang Y, Li L, Zhang J. Curcumin in antidepressant treatments: An overview of potential mechanisms, pre‐clinical/clinical trials and ongoing challenges. Basic Clin Pharma Tox [Internet]. 2020 Oct [cited 2024 Feb 2];127(4):243–53. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bcpt.13455
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Saasha Govender

Diplomas in Journalism, Human Nutrition, and Effective Writing

I am a seasoned health writer with extensive experience in the medical field spanning over several years. My expertise is a fusion of investigative prowess and an unwavering passion for all facets of healthcare. Holding diplomas in Journalism, Human Nutrition, and Effective Writing, along with certification and practical experience in Ancillary Healthcare and Telehealt —I possess a solid foundation that enables me to navigate the scientific intricacies of medical/health-related topics.

My approach goes beyond the surface, as I aim to translate complex theories into reader friendly information without sacrificing medical stance. This ensures readers gain accurate knowledge that can drive change toward improving their health.

my.klarity.health presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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