Anxiety refers to a group of disorders that interfere with an individual’s ability to function and hinders their daily routine.
It is characterized by feelings of stress, restlessness, and tiredness which build up over time and can be detrimental to their lifestyle.
It can damage their relationships, progress at work and ability to focus on a task at hand.
Some forms of anxiety disorder are panic attacks (accelerated heart rate, sweating and shaking) and social phobia, wherein the person avoids interacting with people for fear of being judged or rejected.
Although it is often confused with the feeling of anxiousness, anxiety is a long-term mental illness that is far more impactful on a person affected by it.
Treatment usually involves therapy and medication in some cases.
Table of Contents
- What is Curcumin?
- Proven Benefits of Curcumin for Anxiety Treatment
- 1. Curcumin reduces anxiety symptoms
- 2. Curcumin boosts DHA levels in the brain
- 3. Curcumin protects mental and brain health
- 4. Curcumin has natural anxiolytic activity
- 5. Curcumin can reduce anxiety in Alzheimer’s
- 6. Curcumin benefits in neurological disorders
- 7. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
- Dosage of Curcumin For Anxiety
- Research Studies
What is Curcumin?
Curcumin is a naturally yellow compound which is a critical component of the spice, turmeric.
It has been used throughout history as it is believed to display excellent healing properties.
It was one of the core ingredients of many Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines.
Scientists have gained interest in its use as a pharmacological agent as it regulates cell signals and aids several disease conditions.
It could also be used to treat mental illnesses due to its ability to relieve stress while boosting neural signals.
Proven Benefits of Curcumin for Anxiety Treatment
Curcumin, the active ingredient of turmeric can help in anxiety in several ways. Curcumin helps protect brain health by protecting against harmful anti-oxidants, it reduces symptoms of anxiety, helps in reducing stress, fights inflammation and boosts DHA levels in the brain.
Curcumin has a unique multi-targeting system that helps it monitor any different types of cellular activities. It has been seen to aid conditions of depression and modulate neurotransmitter behavior. It, therefore, bears the potential to lessen the impact of anxiety. This can be illustrated by the following studies:
1. Curcumin reduces anxiety symptoms
In 2015, the Chinese Journal of Integrative medicine published a study which was based on trials of curcumin on obese, anxiety stricken individuals.
Its effects were compared with that of a placebo.
The period over which the subjects were studied ranged from 2 to 10 weeks.
The Beck Anxiety Inventory was used as a measure of the extent of anxiety reduction. The experiment helped demonstrate that curcumin usage could effectively reduce anxiety scores.
What does this mean?
Through the administration of curcumin, the anxiety scores of the obese individuals were significantly brought down. This shows that the compound has the potential for dose dependent use by other individuals as well.
2. Curcumin boosts DHA levels in the brain
Research has suggested that the lack of complex, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in an individual’s diet is often linked to poor brain development and neuroprotection.
This can be a cause for the development of cognitive diseases and anxiety. This is seen more commonly in people who do not consume fish, which is a powerful DHA source.
However, curcumin provides a suitable alternative. Wu A et al’s investigative study showed that the compound could target a multitude of molecular pathways responsible for DHA production.
What does this mean?
By increasing the levels of DHA in brain and liver tissues, curcumin helps improve cognitive function and in turn, lowers the chance of occurrence of anxiety attacks.
3. Curcumin protects mental and brain health
Psychiatric problems are often a result of neurodegeneration. Damage and death of nervous tissue over time cause loss of cognitive ability. It may lead to stress, worry, and depression.
Curcumin acts as an antioxidant and neurotrophic agent, i.e., it helps nervous tissue grow. Through the development of nervous tissue and aiding with the protection of the functioning of the brain, it lessens the impact of damaging chemicals.
These properties have been tested in preclinical models of depression, indicating that they could be applied for anxiety treatment as well.
What does this mean?
Pre-clinical trials with curcumin for depression treatment have shown positive results due to its cell regulatory activity. The neurotrophic potential of curcumin can be put to use for anxiety treatment as well.
4. Curcumin has natural anxiolytic activity
An anxiolytic refers to a type of medication that lowers signs of anxiety. A number of molecules and pathways are interconnected in the process of increasing fear and stress responses in our body.
One such key compound is the enzyme, Serotonin which functions as a neurotransmitter between cells.
A 2014 Histochemical study illustrated curcumin had decreased anxiety in an animal model.
This, in turn, resulted in suppression of neurotransmitter activity within the central nervous system, particularly that of serotonin.
A year after the anxiolytic effects of curcumin were determined, Haider S et al. published a study highlighting the potential applications of curcumin as a nootropic (cognition improving substance).
What does this mean?
The curcumin in turmeric possesses anxiolytic properties i.e. it can be modelled as an anti-stress agent. It monitors oxidative damage enabling it useful in anxiety therapy.
5. Curcumin can reduce anxiety in Alzheimer’s
Anxiety, sometimes occurs as a symptom of other neurological disorders, for instance, Alzheimer’s.
It is believed that curcumin could potentially attenuate anxiety levels by modulation of molecular mechanisms in the central nervous system.
This was investigated by Kulkarni AP et al. where they saw that animals when treated with curcumin and another bioactive compound, Vaccinia virus complement control protein (VCP) displayed lower anxiety behavior.
What does this mean?
The administration of curcumin activates the behavior-modulating mechanisms in the central nervous system. This ability to manipulate cell signals and reactions imparts anxiety attenuating ability to the compound.
6. Curcumin benefits in neurological disorders
As mentioned before, anxiety can arise as a result of another neurological problem.
Several recent scientific studies are indicative of the neuroprotective effects of turmeric. In 2014, SK Kulkarni and colleagues attempted to determine the primary markers which are under the control of curcumin when anti-anxiety effects are demonstrated.
The results of their study emphasized on the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits the compound has to offer.
Through modulation of neurochemicals in the brain, it helps protect it against diseases such as diabetic neuropathy, depression etc..
Therefore, it would be useful to curb anxiety as well.
What does this mean?
Turmeric is rich in antioxidant compounds like curcumin that prevent and reverse damage to cells by obliterating harmful free radicals. These compounds also regulate cell signals and thus are believed to be responsible for the complex’s neuroprotective abilities.
7. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
Two studies published in 2007 and 2008 respectively, gave results which were highly useful in understanding how curcumin brought about anti-anxiety activities in central nervous system cells.
These studies provided answers to questions that scientists had been asking for years regarding the ability of the compound to lower inflammation and oxidative damage.
The first one involved a comparison between curcumin and fluoxetine (a drug used for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder) conducted by Zafir A and colleagues.
Various molecular biology techniques were used to demonstrate how curcumin could effectively block a key oxidative damage related pathway, superoxide oxidoreductase along with blocking oxidative stress markers like (S)-lactate:NAD(+) oxidoreductase while bringing about attenuation of stress conditions.
In the second article, the focus was drawn to the ability of the compound to arrest pro-inflammatory agents thus halting neurodegeneration. This was brought about by the production of molecules which obstructed the activity of inflammatory cytokines and genetic factors.
What does this mean?
Since the compound, curcumin present in turmeric is capable of binding to cells and regulating inflammation, it has potential to be used as an anxiolytic agent.
Dosage of Curcumin For Anxiety
A specific dosage of curcumin has not been prescribed for anxiety.
However many studies utilize a dose of 300mg twice a day for such conditions.
Most research studies utilise a dose of 500-1000mg of curcumin per day. It is best to consult a doctor for the appropriate dosage and formulation of curcumin.
However, you can go through other curcumin supplement formulations here that aid in increasing bioavailability of curcumin. (Read 8 Popular Curcumin supplement types)
Always start with a low dosage and increase gradually over weeks. Curcumin supplements are best taken after meals and avoid taking them at the same time as any other medication. Maintain a 3-4 hour gap.
Turmeric in a diet is safe and most studies have demonstrated that curcumin, even at high dosages, is safe. However, a few precautions must be noted (Read Side effects& Precautions of Curcumin)
Rule out any allergies with turmeric and curcumin.
Avoid taking curcumin supplements on an empty stomach as they may trigger acid reflux in susceptible individuals.
Gastric discomfort is possible with the sudden introduction of curcumin, especially at high doses.
Start with small dosages and increase gradually over weeks to recommended dosages to minimize gastric side effects. In case of serious gastric side effects, discontinue use of curcumin.
Curcumin may interfere with drug metabolism. Hence it is advised to avoid taking curcumin supplements at the same time as taking other medicines.
Maintain a 3-4 hour gap. Also, consult a health practitioner with regards to this to avoid any drug interactions.
Curcumin has blood thinning activity.
If taking blood thinners or suffering from a bleeding /clotting disorder it is advisable to avoid curcumin supplements in this case. (Read Is turmeric a blood thinner?) Consult a health practitioner with regards to this.
Discontinue curcumin supplements 2 weeks prior to surgical procedures to avoid bleeding risk.
Avoid turmeric supplements during pregnancy and lactation.
Ensure that you opt for good quality curcumin supplements that are free from toxicity, heavy metal contamination, fillers or additives.
It is best to take curcumin supplements with Bioperine or other agents that increase its bioavailability.
Consult a health practitioner before taking curcumin supplements.
Study 1: Curcumin Boosts DHA To Alleviate Anxiety
An extensive study for a duration of 3.5 weeks was conducted using animal models to determine the possible mechanisms by which curcumin enhances the production as well as the action of DHA in the functioning of the brain.
The animals were fed a control diet (calorie-control), ALA diet, curcumin diet or curcumin with ALA diet. ALA, which is a precursor to DHA, included in the diet was from vegetarian sources.
It was observed that the diet containing only ALA or curcumin alone did not increase the content of DHA compared to the control diet in the brain.
But the diet which contained curcumin and ALA acid resulted in a significantly higher content of DHA which shows that curcumin can enhance the conversion of ALA into DHA.
Curcumin and ALA together brought about a significant increase in enzymes involved in the production of DHA.
The animal study demonstrated that these increase in DHA level was associated with reduced anxiety-like behavior.
As DHA is mainly produced in the liver, the study included an understanding of the effects of curcumin on the hepatic (related to the liver) DHA and it was observed when curcumin was combined with ALA acid, there was a significant increase in hepatic DHA content.
Further, it was observed that a combination of DPA (another precursor to DHA) with curcumin significantly increased the DHA content in comparison to DPA alone.
Similarly, DHA and DPA combination increased the level of enzymes involved in DHA production.
Impaired synthesis of DHA in the liver has been linked with Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin’s activity of boosting DHA levels in the liver could be of relevance to this condition.
What was the purpose of the study?
DHA plays an important role in the structural development and functioning of the human brain as it accounts for about one-third of the fatty acids in the brain’s grey matter (region of the brain that processes information) which is essential in the development of a healthy brain.
Deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids in the developmental stages of the brain can cause degradation of cognitive abilities (brain skills like learning, memory, paying attention and problem solving). It can be improved by increased DHA content.
DHA deficiency in diet can cause risks of neurocognitive disorders and hence, diets that are enriched with DHA improve abilities like learning, memory and also protects against cognitive decline during the natural process of aging.
It is known that DHA can be easily obtained from animal sources in the diet like seafood, beef, eggs, etc., but in case of a vegetarian and vegan diet, there is a challenge.
Also for omnivores, who do not eat seafood obtaining healthy levels of DHA can be a challenge. Meat and eggs have low levels of DHA due to changes in feeding pattern.
Interestingly Asian countries follow vegetarian diets and still have a low prevalence of cognitive decline. This discrepancy led to an investigation of other compounds of the vegetarian diet which could have a possible neuroprotective effect.
It was identified that turmeric was a regular in every Indian household and the daily intake ranged from somewhere between 0.24g-4g per person per day.
Curcumin is the primary bioactive curcuminoid having several medicinal properties which can be helpful in the treatment of several neurological diseases likes Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, brain injury, and psychiatric disease.
Curcumin is a strong anti-oxidant and having potent anti-inflammatory properties, therefore there is also a possibility that the increased DHA content observed in the brain and liver can be due to the reduction of oxidative-stress (imbalance between the production of harmful free radicals and body’s detoxification process) and anti-inflammatory action of curcumin.
What does this mean?
Essential fatty acids like ALA, DPA and EPA (which produce DHA) are required for human health and can be easily obtained through animal rich diet like fish oil, meat, milk etc.
But this study shows that you do not have to rely on non-vegetarian sources of DHA if you include turmeric in your diet along with vegetarian sources of DHA precursors.
The study proved that curcumin in combination with vegetarian sources of DHA precursors helped in the synthesis of DHA which is essential in the development and functioning of the human brain.
Curcumin elevated the levels of DHA in liver and brain and this brought about a decrease in anxiety-like behavior. This could also have implications on other brain-related diseases.[/su_expand]
Studies boasting of curcumin’s therapeutic potentials are being published in journals worldwide, contributing to its popularity among medical circuits and psychiatrists.
Researchers are dedicating a large number of funds and efforts to fully explore its pharmacological potentials. Its many benefits, when put to good use will recharter the future of neurological disorders.