The active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin. New research shows it has powerful antidepressant properties.

Turmeric is the bright yellow spice that is commonly added to curries. It has a range of medicinal properties and a long history of use in Ayurvedic and Chinese traditional medicine. Curcumin has powerful natural anti-inflammatory properties, and this is one way it helps to reduce depression.

Depression is so much more than feeling down in the dumps or blue; it is a medical illness that can severely impair an individual’s quality of life. Antidepressants are some of the most widely used prescription medications, but for many people the benefits are minimal. Far too many people on prescription antidepressants continue to suffer with symptoms of depression.

Prescription antidepressants can have a range of unpleasant side effects; sometimes bad enough to cause a person to discontinue their use. What causes depression? The short answer is potentially many things. Certainly genetic factors predispose an individual to depression. Stressful life events are a common trigger. However, a number of metabolic and hormonal factors can produce symptoms of depression.

Clinical trials have shown that most patients who suffer with depression actually have elevated levels of certain inflammatory chemicals in their body. What causes the inflammation? Typical culprits are diets high in sugar and processed foods, nutrient deficiencies, leaky gut and too much of the wrong bacteria living in the gut; heavy metal toxicity and impaired liver function. Interestingly, recently it has been discovered that some prescription medications (SSRIs) reduce levels of inflammation in the body, and this may be one way they treat depression.

Curcumin has some interesting actions in the body. Chiefly it helps to reduce inflammation. Curcumin has been shown to inhibit cyclooxygenase (COX)-2, cytokine-producing helper T cells (Th1 or Th2), transcription 3, nitric oxide synthase and nuclear factor kappa B (NFkB). This broad spectrum anti inflammatory activity is not found in any prescription drug. Another interesting property of curcumin is the ability to modulate neurotransmitters in the brain. Curcumin inhibits monoamine oxidase (MAO-A and MAO-B), which are involved in breaking down dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. This is how monoamine oxidase inhibitor prescription antidepressants like Nardil, Aurorix and Parnate work.

Many factors can cause depression, but a healthy diet rich in vegetables, protein and natural fats, along with regular exercise are always helpful in treatment. Please don’t discontinue any prescription medication unless you’ve discussed it with your doctor. Curcumin is safe to be used with prescription antidepressants. If you are not satisfied with your current treatment, curcumin may help. For more information see my book Help for Depression and Anxiety.

Lin TY, Lu CW, Wang CC, et al. Curcumin inhibits glutamate release in nerve terminals from rat prefrontal cortex: possible relevance to its antidepressant mechanism. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry 2011;35(7):1785-1793
Raison C, Capuron L, Miller A. Cytokines sing the blues: inflammation and the pathogenesis of depression. TRENDS 2006;27(1):24-31