Curcumin as Good as Prozac for Depression

May 26, 2014

Curcumin for Depression – Eat More Curry! 

 ReferenceSanmukhani Phytotherapy Research 

 Depression!  Ugly.  At least 10% of us have it at any given time. "You are mentally ill," we say and turn away.  Not only do you suffer, but you get left out in the cold.  So we give you all sorts of drugs to boost your "serotonin".   Trouble is, those drugs don't work very well for very long. Let's take a new look at it. Depression is not a mental illness.  It is inflammation of the brain.  The brain, gut, immune system triad work together in a fashion that inflammation in the gut often affects the brain.  The glia cells that protect your neurons are effectively white cells because they react to inflammation and inflammation markers just like other white cells.  Only difference, they don't move. They stay wrapped around the neurons.  But when they get inflamed, the neurons underneath suffer.   

That's the current concept of depression. And that's why curcumin (derived from turmeric) works in depression.   In this study, 60 patients with major depression were randomized to get curcumin or Prozac or both.   The observers who graded their range of depression didn't know what they were getting.  At the end of the study, the folks with just the curcumin had the same response rate as the Prozac group.  Both groups were thought to have about a 65% increase in their standardized depression scoring by Hamilton Depression Rating Scale.  

Guess who had no side effects?   But did you get that – just as effective as Prozac, without the side effects.  Now, the tricky thing is "effective dose".  Curcumin is not easily absorbed.  The study had 1000 mg doses which was in a twice a day formulation.   To be really well absorbed, curcumin needs to be attached to oil.  In India, folks fry their turmeric after mixing it with water and making it into a slurry. That's the way you start making curry.  But the dry spice by itself isn't nearly as well absorbed.  The current thought is you have to mix it with 10% black pepper to make it more absorbable.  Not a problem when making curry.   Many companies are now making curcumin attached to a fatty acid molecule to increase the absorption – in effect, they are frying it for you.   Those forms are 7-10 times better absorbed than the raw spice. 

 Turmeric is known to do several remarkable things.  First and foremost, it dramatically blocks NFκ B.   NFκ B is the common pathway to inflammation.  It is the protein inside cells that responds to C-reactive protein and turns on cellular inflammation.   It also lowers interleukin-1 by as much as 60%.  Interleukin-1 is a potent initiator of inflammation.   Curcumin inhibits cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), another inflammatory initiator.  

But most intriguing, turmeric turns on new brain cell growth.   Interestingly enough, that's what tricyclic antidepressants also do.  A critical brain growth factor called BDNF that stimulates new brain cell growth is depressed under stressful circumstances.  Not if you are taking curcumin.   Look in the hippocampus part of animal brains taking curcumin, and you can easily find the newly generated brain cells. 

 WWW.  What will work for me.  We keep finding new reasons to take turmeric.  This article caught my eye because I just found a fantastic new Pakistani restaurant that serves delicious dishes with gobs of curry sauce made from turmeric. I'm not sure if my cheerful mood came from the great flavors or from the boost the turmeric gave me.   I didn't list the reduction in Alzheimer's with turmeric or the cancer risk reduction.   I thought mood would be good enough.  Anmol on Mitchell Street in Milwaukee.   Yelp rated it a 5.   Get cheerful and try it yourself.  Or find an Indian Restaurant close to you and have a meal with lots of curry. 

 Pop Quiz 

 1.  Depression is rare?  T or F False.                     Answer:   10 % of us at any given time 

 2.   Curcumin is derived from turmeric, one of the principal spices in curry.   T or F                 Answer:  True 

 3.   Curcumin has many dramatic effects on inflammation?  T or F                      Answer:   True 

 4.   Depression is being thought to be a disease of inflammation of the brain.  T or F                Answer:  True 

 5.  The glial cells that protect the brain respond to inflammatory signals, just like white cells everywhere else.  T or F                      Answer: True 

 6.  Curcumin also helps keep BDNF, a nerve growth factor, elevated and functioning in face of stress.  T or F                             Answer:  True. 

 7.   BDNF helps new brain cells grow.   Antidepressants may work through that channel.  Curcumin does the same thing.  T or F                     Answer:  True 

 8.  Curcumin has the same toxicity profile as Prozac.  T or F                  Answer:  False.  No known toxicity.