Depression is a word frequently came across nowadays. We often find people who are depressed or sometimes we ourselves feel the same.
It seems depression is a behavioural problem that is influenced by adversities that we may experience in our lives related to emotions, illness, failure and other social and personal factors. But, depression is a disorder caused by certain changes in the functioning of the neurotransmitters in the brain.
It is a serious mood disorder where one feels irritated, sad, insomniac, anxious, tired and uninterested in favourite as well as everyday activities. The person may also experience physical pain and aches, eating disorder, memory problems or even suicidal tendencies.
Most of the time teenagers, young adults and old aged people suffer from depression. Some people may even feel depressed in certain season and some women feel depressed after giving birth, known as postpartum depression.
The causes of depression are various including hormonal, genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. Changes in hormones during puberty, pregnancy and some hormonal disorders can trigger depression.
It risk of depression is also high due to chronic illnesses, alcoholism or drug abuse, traumatic or stressful events, low self-esteem, mental disorders, genetic inheritance and due to use of certain medications.
Depression is a treatable disorder. It can be treated with the help of medicines, counselling, emotional support and other psychotherapies. In severe cases, electrical impulses may be given to stimulate the brain.
The antidepressant drugs reduce depression by balancing the neurotransmitter levels in the brain. Tricyclic compounds such as amoxapin, doxapin etc. are commonly used as antidepressants.
These drugs however, come with many side-effects such as drowsiness, nausea, weight gain, dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation etc. The electrical therapy also has many side-effects like nausea, headache and muscle pain.
Considering the side-effects of the conventional treatment (i.e. antidepressant drugs), natural sources with antidepressant properties is being explored.
One of such natural compound is curcumin, the prime constituent of the ordinary spice, turmeric.
What is curcumin?
Curcumin or diferuloylmethane is a polyphenol found in the rhizome of the turmeric plant, Curcuma longa. It is a bright yellow compound which gives turmeric its colour.
Curcumin is the most active biological component of turmeric which modulates various molecules involved in a cell’s metabolic and signalling pathways. This ability of curcumin endows it with many exceptional medicinal benefits.
Some of its most notable medicinal properties are those of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, anti-microbial, anti-cancer, immune-modulatory, neuroprotective and so on.
5 Proven Benefits of Curcumin in Depression
The plethora of biological activities of curcumin potentiates it to benefit in depression as well besides many other ailments. Its neuroprotective activity, ability to modulate signalling pathways and other such properties can be exploited in the treatment of depression.
1.Curcumin has antidepressant activity
The physiological process involved in the development of depression is known to be governed by the levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones in the brain.
Their dysfunction or imbalance leads to depressive behavior. These factors may vary from patient to patient.
Curcumin is believed to possess antidepressant action which is mediated by its ability to alter various neurochemicals.
It has been found to be significantly effective in the patients with depressive illness.
Curcumin’s antidepressant activity is owed to its inhibitory action on the monoamine oxidase enzyme (breaks down neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine). It also promotes the release of serotonin and dopamine, the neurotransmitters responsible for happy feelings.
The trials of curcumin on depression patients have shown its remarkable efficacy in improving the depressive symptoms and promoting anti-anxiety effects.
In a trial, patients with major depressive disorder were given different doses (low and high) of curcumin for 12 weeks. It was found that all the doses could significantly reduce depressive symptoms.
Curucmin also had a great efficacy in the patients with atypical depression (depression with unusual symptoms like weight gain or loss etc.)
Studies have also been conducted to compare the efficacy of curcumin with conventional antidepressant drugs.
In a clinical trial on individuals with major depressive disorder, curcumin’s antidepressant activity was found to be comparable to the antidepressant drug and their combination had even better results.
What does it mean?
It means use of curcumin can reduce depression. It promotes the release of neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of pleasure and also prevents their breakdown, leading to improvement in the symptoms of depression.
2.Curcumin is a neuroprotective agent and benefits brain health
Neurodegeneration or degradation of the structure or function of the neurons is often linked with depression. It is primarily a result of neuro-inflammation, i.e. inflammation in the neurons which is caused by an increased pro-inflammatory response promoted by aging, immune dysfunction or other such factors.
Curcumin is a well-known neuroprotectant. It has been found to have protective activity on many neurodegenerative diseases. This activity of curcumin is ascribed to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
This neuroprotective activity of curcumin is also useful in the treatment of depression. It decreases levels of various pro-inflammatory molecules in the brain which in turn reduces depressive symptoms.
What does it mean?
It means curcumin consumption can protect the neurons from the damage induced by inflammatory responses which results into depression. The ant-inflammatory and antioxidant action of curcumin thus, can be used to reduce depressive symptoms.
3.Curcumin enhances neurogenesis
Neurogenesis is the process of generation of new neurons, essential for proper functioning of the brain. In the depressive disorders, neurogenesis is reduced particularly in the hippocampal region (an organ in the brain closely associated with emotions, memory and other cognitive abilities) of the brain.
An elevated level of glucocorticoids (steroidal hormones that mediate response to stress) and reduced levels of neurotrophic factors (involved in neurogenesis) cause the death of neurons and affect the process of neurogenesis.
Curcumin has been found to reverse the damage induced by chronic stress to the hippocampal neurons. It also increases the expressions of the neurotrophic factors and thus increases neurogenesis.
In animal models, curcumin has been shown to enhance the neurogenesis of the hippocampal region and thus, improve the cognitive abilities.
Other studies have also highlighted curcumin’s efficacy in managing depressive disorders by increasing BDNF levels.
What does it mean?
It means intake of curcumin can exert antidepressant effects by enhancing the generation of new neurons in the hippocampal region of the brain. This helps in improving the depressive symptoms.
4.Curcumin aids in the activity of antidepressant drugs
A number of antidepressant drugs are available nowadays that have different mechanisms of action to relieve the symptoms of depression.
These drugs work well in treating the severe forms of depression but found to be less effective in the cases of mild depression.
There are other problems faced as well with these drugs which include intolerance, delayed effect and resistance to these drugs.
Curcumin is an answer to the problems of inefficiency of these drugs. It is found to potentiate the antidepressant action of several antidepressant drugs.
Its high doses increase the efficacy of the antidepressant drugs and can be supplemented with these drugs to prevent the development of depression and reduce the symptoms effectively.
Curcumin’s co-administration has been found to improve the activity of many of these commonly used drugs synergistically such as those of fluoxetine, venlafaxine, brupopion etc.
In an animal model, fluoxetine drug activity was significantly potentiated by the curcumin administration.
What does it mean?
It means addition of curcumin with the antidepressant drugs can enhance the activity of these drugs. The synergistic action of the both can overcome the limitations of the antidepressant drugs and can improve the symptoms of depression better.
5.Curcumin reduces disease related depression
The prevalence of depression is a major issue associated with various chronic diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, obesity, heart problems etc.
Depression may arise as a behavioral or biological symptom of these diseases. Moreover, it may contribute to severity or progression of these diseases. Therefore, it becomes very important to treat the depression related to these diseases.
Curcumin proves to be of great advantage here too. It has been found to benefit in depression related to various diseases.
In a study on obese individuals, curcumin supplementation was able to reduce the symptoms of depression and has a significant impact on anxiety.
Depression is very commonly associated with neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s. In a case study, curcumin was found to significantly reduce the behavioral symptoms of depression in Alzheimer’s patients by altering neurotransmitters’ levels.
What does it mean?
Ccurcumin can be used to disease related depression as well. This can be helpful in controlling aggravation of these disease caused by depression.
Dosage of Curcumin For Depression
The specific dosage of curcumin is not prescribed for depression.
Many studies utilize a high amount of curcumin, i.e. 500- 1000mg per day to treat depression. This amount is found to improve the symptoms of depression markedly.
The widely used curcumin supplements are standardized 95% curcumin with bioperine. For a better absorption in the body curcumin needs to be combined with piperine (from black pepper) and natural fats.(Read How to improve bioavailability of curcumin?)
There are many other curcumin supplements that can help to increase the bioavailabilty of curcumin. (Read 8 Popular curcumin supplement types)
Curcumin consumption should be initiated with lower doses. The dose can be raised slowly over weeks. Curcumin should ideally be taken after meals and its intake along with other medications must be avoided.
A gap of 3-4 hour is advised between the intake of curcumin and any medicines.
The dietary use of turmeric is very safe. Curcumin, even in high doses has shown no toxicity in most studies.
However, some precautions must be noted about the use of curcumin. (Read Side effects & Precautions of Curcumin)
Turmeric and curcumin may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. If allergic to ginger family avoid turmeric.
Intake of curcumin supplemants on an empty stomach can cause acid reflux in vulnerable people. Thus it is advised to consume them after meals.
A sudden introduction of a high amount of curcumin can cause gastric disturbances and thus, may result into gastric problems like diarrhoea, bloating, nausea etc.
It is best to start curcumin intake with small amounts and should be avoided in case of gastric side-effects are observed.
Curcumin interferes in the activity of drug metabolising enzymes. Therefore it is advised not to take it at the same time as taking any medicine. Maintain a 3-4 hour gap. Consulting a medical practitioner is best in this regard.
Curcumin has anti-platelet activity. Therefore, those suffering from bleeding disorders or on blood thinning medication should use curcumin with caution. (Read Is turmeric a blood thinner?)
The blood thinning activity of curcumin can result into slowing down of the blood clotting process, necessary for healing a surgery wound. Therefore, its use is better discontinued at least 2 weeks before a surgery.
Gallstone patients should use curcumin supplements with caution.(Read Is turmeric safe in gallstones?)
Curcumin supplements could be contaminated with heavy metals, harmful chemicals, fillers or additives. These contaminants can cause harm to the body. Ensure that you take good quality supplements.
Curcumin supplements are best when combined with bioavailability enhancers.Curcumin has a poor absorption in the body therefore it must be combined with the agents like bioperine which increase its bioavailability in the body.
It is best to consult a health practitioner before using curcumin supplements.
Curcumin is immensely valuable in the treatment of depression.
Its antidepressant action is capable of ameliorating the symptoms of depression and positively impacts the lives of depression patients. Its neuroprotective activity prevents the depressive symptoms caused by damage to the neurons.
Moreover, curcumin also helps reducing in depression by increasing the process of neurogenesis.
Furthermore, it is able to improve the action of antidepressant drugs which is useful in overcoming the problems of drug inefficiency and resistance.
All these outcomes of curcumin prove its enormous potential against depression.