Depression is one very common emotional state today.
Because of hectic life, low social support and unhealthy lifestyle more and people today find themselves in depression.
All of us have felt depressed at some point of life due to various reasons.
Last time I remember when I was depressed was when I did not get my dream job after graduation.
It was a short period where I felt miserable, sad, unhappy and did not feel like anything.
Thanks to strong family support, it did not last for long.
What is depression?
Depression is a brain disorder in which level of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) becomes abnormal.
Factors like hormone imbalance, genetic changes, difficult life situations and other medical problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases or stroke contribute to the onset of depression.
It is accompanied by a combination of symptoms such as emotions of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, frustration, anger and loss of interest in family and friends and, physical problems like tiredness, body ache, weight loss/gain and changes in appetite and sleep pattern.
In depression, symptoms occur regularly for a longer time and makes daily life tough.
While emotional support plays a very important part, medications are also available to treat these conditions, especially if it becomes chronic.
According to some estimates close to 15-20% of world’s population suffers from major depression at any particular time.
This is indeed a huge number.
Use of anti-depressant drugs is very common today such as Tricyclic antidepressant, Serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, etc.
Infact it is the most common way of tackling depression. But one must be careful because these drugs carry several side effects and interact with foods we eat.
Thus best remedies for depression are natural and psychotherapy.
I must confess I was not aware that turmeric can also help in treating depression.
I was pleasantly surprised to know it and thanked nature for giving so many natural remedies to ensure we stay healthy (of course we have to take them!).
But first, a bit about turmeric.
Turmeric – miracle spice
Yellow coloured Indian spice- ‘Turmeric’ is the powdered rhizome of the plant, Curcuma longa.
Turmeric has been a part of native Southeast Asian food. I t is also a herb known to possess a number of healing properties which can be exploited to develop to modern medicines for treatment of a broad range of ailments.
Ayurveda contain years of documented scientific studies that prove therapeutic properties of turmeric turmeric such as anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, antifungal, antibacterial, antidepressant, pain reliever, anticoagulant, antifertility, anti-diabetic etc.
The medicinal properties of turmeric are primarily due to the curcuminoid content in it.
Curcuminoids give yellow colour to turmeric and generally make up 5% of turmeric composition. Mainly, three types of curcuminoids are there: curcumin (65–80%), demethoxycurcumin (15–25%), and bisdemethoxycurcumin (5–15%).
Turmeric for Depression – What Science Has to Say
So what makes turmeric good for treating depression?
It is again because of the presence of
Curcumin, the main biological active phytochemical component of turmeric.
Curcumin protects against depression in 3 ways:
- t acts against oxidative and inflammatory responses generated during depression
- It increases the level of neurotrophic factors that are responsible for growth and survival of nerve cells
- It modulates the level of neurotransmitters in brain
Mechanism of action of curcumin has been elaborated below.
1. Turmeric as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory
Major depression is marked by lower concentration of both antioxidant enzymes e.g. glutathione peroxidase as well as antioxidants such as glutathione, vitamin E and zinc in blood plasma.
These antioxidants protect against reactive oxygen species (ROS).
ROS has the capacity to damage all fatty acids, DNA and proteins.
Due to lower level of antioxidants, ROS increases that may cause deficiency of oxygen and glucose in the brain cells resulting in in brain oxidative stress.
Oxidative damage is detected through high levels of malondialdehyde (byproduct of damage of fatty acids in cell membranes) and higher concentration of 8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine (marker of DNA damage).
Malondialdehyde act as a biomarker for oxidative stress.
The anti-oxidant property of curcumin was demonstrated in a study through the lower levels of malondialdehyde in blood after administration of combination of curcumin and pepper in patients of chronic pancreatitis.
Brain is more susceptible to oxidative damage due to lower levels of antioxidants and higher metabolic rate in brain.
Hence, oxidative damage is associated with most of the neurodegenerative disorders like depression.
Curcumin act as an antioxidant against depression by scavenging the free radicals, increasing the level of antioxidants like glutathione and repairing the free radical induced damage.
Depression is also accompanied by inflammation induced by oxidative stress.
T-cells and monocytes (inflammatory mediators) play role in depression. Neutrophils and other proinflammatory molecules activated via inflammatory pathway may lead to an increased production of nitric acid resulting in nitrosative stress.
Nitric oxide is synthesized in inflammatory cells by the action of enzyme, intracellular nitric oxide synthase (NOS). Nitric oxide can form reactive oxygen species that damages DNA and other proteins.
Through animal studies in laboratory, curcumin has shown its potential to inhibit both NF-kB as well as subsequent activation of COX-2 and NOS.
Nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB) is a protein that binds to DNA and enhances the expression of pro-inflammatory genes such as COX-2 gene and nitric oxide synthase.
NF-κB plays an important role in upregulation of cytokines in many inflammatory diseases.
Major depression disorder (MDD) is a severe and recurrent psychological disorder in which a person stays depressed for minimum two weeks and maximum 20 weeks.
It significantly hampers the individual’s quality of life. Antidepressant medicines do not work much for MDD patients as they make the patients resistant to treatment.
Curcumin, an active compound of Curcuma longa, has shown effectiveness in animal models of depression.
In one of the studies, efficacy and safety of curcumin was compared with fluoxetine (anti-depressant) in patients suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD).
The patients were divided into 3 groups: one received only curcumin, second group received fluoxetine only and the third group received combination of both. Combined treatment with curcumin and fluoxetine gave best results which prove that curcumin treatment is effective for MDD patients.
Co-administration of curcuminoids with black pepper may be used as a safe and effective add-on to standard antidepressants in patients with MDD.
Studies have shown that administration of curcuminoids–pepper combination can act as an effective add-on to the standard antidepressant treatment for reducing the depression related symptoms in MDD patients.
What it means: Curcumin’s antioxidant action helps to scavenge reactive oxygen species in the brain that can damage brain cells and increase the level of natural antioxidants.
Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory property inhibits inflammatory neutrophils and other inflammatory mediators that can lead to nitric oxide induced nitrosative stress.
2. Curcumin increases BDNF levels
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is the protein responsible for controlling the growth of nerve cells.
The BDNF protein helps to control learning, long-term memory and mood.
The BDNF protein is found in those parts of the brain that control eating, drinking, and body weight.
BDNF is abundant in hippocampus region of brain.
Reduced levels of BDNF have been associated with depression and poor learning.
Curcumin exhibits its antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects through: inhibition of inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain, boosting levels of BDNF and promotion of new nerve cell development in hippocampus (region of brain that controls memory, emotions and navigation).
In a clinical trial, both acute and chronic injections of different doses of curcumin were administered in animal models of depression to assess the changes in their locomotion through forced swim test.
Forced swim test showed increase in mobility with increase in curcumin dose in both acute and chronic cases.
Prolonged curcumin injections increased BDNF activity in hippocampus.
Hippocampus is the elongated ridges on the floor of each lateral ventricle of the brain, thought to be the centre of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system.
Xiaoyao-san is a traditional Chinese medicine which is used for treatment of depression related disorders.
Curcumin is the major component of this medicine.
As per a study, treatment with combination of Xiaoyao-san and other antidepressants was more effective in improving symptoms of depression patients without any side effects.
Three endocrine glands: Hypothalamus, Pituitary and Adrenal interact with each other to form HPA axis.
This axis regulates stress, depression and other processes in body such as digestion, mood, sexuality and energy storage and expenditure.
Stress induced rats showed dysfunction of the HPA axis and poor performance in shuttle box task (an animal learning experiment in which a box is divided into two halves and the animal is expected to move from one compartment to the other in order to gain reward).
Chronic curcumin administration reciprocated the results in rats.
Curcumin treatment improved the behaviour of rats and modulated the expression of reduced BDNF in chronically stressed rats.
It also blocked the decrease in ratio of phosphorylated cAMP response element-binding protein (pCREB) to CREB levels in the hippocampus of stressed rats.
CREB is a gene which upon phosphorylation becomes active to regulate expression of BDNF protein.
What it means: Decline in Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is seen in case of depression. Curcumin elevate BDNF levels that results in improvement of long-term memory, motion, function of HPA axis and new nerve cell generation.
3. Curcumin modulates neurotransmission in 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).
Dopamine play role in movement. Serotonin regulates sleep, appetite and mood. Norepinephrine increases blood pressure by narrowing blood vessels and trigger anxiety also.
Interference with transmission of dopamine can produce depression-related symptoms such as loss of energy and loss of movement linked behaviour such as coordination, speed, strength etc.
Assessment of behavioural, neurochemical and neuroendocrine effects of ethanolic extract from Curcuma longa was done using the forced swimming test (FST) in male mice.
Oral administration of extract reduced the immobility duration in mouse FST by increasing concentration of serotonin, 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid, noradrenaline and dopamine.
Monoamine oxidase (MAO) is of two types: MAO-A and MAO-B found in nerve cells, MAO-A is also found in the liver, blood vessels of lung, gastrointestinal tract, and placenta. MAO-B is mostly found in blood platelets.
A study showed that oral administration of curcumin at a lower dose inhibited the activity of MAO-A in mouse brain while MAO-B activity was inhibited at higher doses of the extract.
The effect of curcumin extract was more potent than the extract of fluoxetine (antidepressant).
Another study showed that curcumin enhances the anti-depressant and anti-immobility effect of some of the drugs like fluoxetine, venlafaxine, or bupropion and their combination can lead to a synergistic effect on increase in serotonin levels.
Curcumin alone increases serotonin and dopamine levels.
What it means: Depression is caused by abnormal imbalance in the level of three neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.
Curcumin exerts its antidepressant effect by blocking the activity of monoamine oxidase enzyme that is responsible for inactivation of these neurotransmitters.
Turmeric Dosage for depression
In the market, turmeric supplements are available in the form of capsules, fluid extract or tincture.
Taking turmeric as a spice is extremely safe. That is also one of the best way to take turmeric,
Turmeric dosage for depression
There is no specific dosage as such but based on the feedback from our readers taking 5-6 gms of turmeric a day has been helpful. This is equivalent to 1 tsp.
The dosage can be high (2-3 tsps) if you are not getting relief. But do not take very high doses for a long time. Come back to 5-6 gms as you feel fine.
Do make sure you buy a good brand of turmeric to get its benefits. If you are confused about good turmeric brands, you can find our recommendations of the brands here>
It is best to include turmeric as part of your diet. Turmeric can be added to almost anything we cook without issues.
Here are some of the most popular ways:
need more recipes? check here>
Due to low bioavailability of turmeric, it is not easily absorbed from the intestines into the blood.
Turmeric must be taken along with black pepper or fats as both of them enhance its absorption.
Read detailed article on how to improve turmeric’s bioavailability here>
Turmeric is regularly consumed as a spice in countries of Southeast Asia.
Hence, turmeric consumption in food is harmless.
But be cautious before taking supplements.
In certain medical conditions like pregnancy, gall stones and diabetes, higher doses of curcumin is prohibited as higher concentration of the active compound may cause complications in these conditions.
Pregnant and lactating women should not take turmeric supplements as there is no evidence supporting the effect of higher doses of curcumin in these conditions.
It is okay for them to consume turmeric in form of food.
Intake of turmeric higher than the recommended dose for longer period can even cause indigestion problems, ulcers and gall stones. High dose of curcumin can also lead to declined levels of blood sugar in the patient.
Turmeric has tendency to slow down the process of blood clotting.
Hence, people must avoid turmeric consumption in exceeded limits at least two weeks before undergoing surgery.
Turmeric has been proved to be an effective anti-depressant due to its non-toxicity and multifunctional effect evident through traditional literature.
Curcumin in turmeric can provide safe and efficacious alternative treatment to patients suffering from depression as conventional medications for depression has various side-effects and can even make patient intolerant to the drugs.
Mechanism of action of curcumin involves targeting neurotransmitters and brain derived neurotrophic factors that play an important role in functioning of nervous system.
Curcumin also blocks formation of reactive oxygen species and inflammatory response in brain that occurs during depression.
Since turmeric enhances the effect of antidepressants, use of conventional anti-depressant medications and other psychotherapies must be accompanied with the intake of turmeric and doctor must be consulted before consuming turmeric supplements for the treatment.
In the end..
I wish that none of you feel depressed, and even if you do you come out even stronger.
Please feel free to share your own experiences with depression and how you tackled it with or without turmeric being involved. Will be very valuable for readers.