The prestigious Curcuma longa plant is one of the most beneficial medicinal herbs of our time. This member of the ginger family contains turmeric, a robust rhizome with numerous healing properties.
Widely used in southern Thai and Indian cuisine, turmeric is now getting recognition as more than just a kitchen spice. But, can turmeric help depression, anxiety, and stress relief?
Turmeric for Depression and Anxiety
Recent studies on the benefits of turmeric allude to the possibility that it may also serve as a complementary treatment to several neurological disorders. Researchers believe curcumin can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, reduce symptoms of epilepsy, and delay the onset of other neurodegenerative conditions.
We’ve also seen evidence suggesting that turmeric can help stabilize mood and combat depression. If you’re dealing with anxiety or severe fluctuations in perceived quality of life, curcumin might be the supplement need. (1)
Before we dive into the studies and turmeric’s mechanism of action, let’s look at depression in a bit more detail.
What is Depression?
Depression, otherwise known as clinical depression or major depressive disorder, is a common mood disorder. Its impact on daily life can be profound. It can change how you think, how you feel, how you act, as well as your ability to sleep, eat, and work.
Symptoms can vary between individuals, but for the most part, there’s a lot of overlap among depressed individuals. Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, pessimism, emptiness, a sense of being alone, and even suicidal thoughts are all severe and require immediate attention.
There are a few different types of depression to keep in mind as we proceed through the article.
- Persistent Depressive Disorder: Otherwise known as “dysthymia,” is a depressed mood lasting a minimum of two years. Symptoms may be less severe at times, but the depression is persistent.
- Postpartum Depression: Women who experience major depression amidst pregnancy or following the delivery. Extreme sadness, exhaustion, and anxiety often occur.
- Psychotic Depression: Transpires during bouts of severe depression while simultaneously experiencing some form of psychosis— false fixed beliefs (delusions), hearing or seeing things (hallucinations).
- Seasonal Affective Disorder: This type of depression arises during seasonal changes, particularly during winter months, when sunlight is less frequent. It usually dissipates during summer and spring months.
You may possess a higher risk of developing the disorder if you have a family history of depression. The odds also increase if you’ve undergone significant life changes, stress, or trauma, or if you’re dealing with illnesses or medical problems.
Severe medical conditions such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Parkinson’s can all worsen when they co-occur with depression. Thus, it’s critical to seek medical attention as soon as possible if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression. (2, 3)
What are Antidepressants?
Prescription antidepressants are supposed to correct the chemical imbalance in the brain responsible for depressive symptoms. Specifically, these drugs will impact the level of serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter in the brain. But there’s a catch.
Evidence suggests the majority of the positive benefits from antidepressants derive from the placebo effect. Some drugs increase the level of serotonin, while others decrease the level of serotonin. Yet, they all show similarly positive results. This fact seems to fly in the face of the chemical imbalance theory. (4)
Nevertheless, studies indicate that turmeric possesses an antidepressant effect in the brain without the plethora of side effects that accompany prescription medications. (5)
Why Turmeric Curcumin?
Turmeric has a well-documented status as one of the best over the counter anti-inflammatory agents. Also, curcumin’s antioxidant properties can help reduce oxidative stress, a primary cause of depressive disorders.
In this post, we’ll explore the science and research behind curcumin’s ability to stabilize our mood, reduce stress, and help major depressive disorder.
Turmeric and Depression: Can Curcumin Reduce Anxiety and Stress?
One study sought to uncover the antidepressant activity of curcumin on 60 patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). The trial split the patients into three groups where they received either fluoxetine (20 mg), curcumin (1,000 mg), or their combination for a 6-week treatment period.
Fluoxetine is a prescription antidepressant classified as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). This class of drugs seeks to raise serotonin levels in the brain to correct potential chemical imbalances in depressed or anxious individuals.
The study used the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D17) to assess response rates and mean change in the three groups. The results showed the following:
- 8% response in the combination group
- 7% response in the fluoxetine group
- 5% response in the curcumin group
Even though the combination of curcumin and fluoxetine scored best, the results were not statistically significant. Also, the mean change in the HAM-D17 score was comparable in all three groups. This conclusion suggests that turmeric may help treat patients with MDD, effectively, and without adverse side effects. (8)
Another human study tested 123 individuals with MDD in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, and randomized environment. Researchers split the subjects into four different groups and treated with either a placebo, 250 mg of curcumin, 500 mg of curcumin, or 250 mg of curcumin plus 15 mg of saffron.
The results showed that the three active drug treatment groups had greater antidepressant effects than the placebo. There were no significant variances in efficacy among the medicated groups. (9)
A third human trial assessed curcumin’s antidepressant activity on a group of 108 men between 31 and 59 years of age. The subjects took either 1,000 mg of curcumin or a placebo for a 6-week treatment period.
Chronic supplementation of turmeric resulted in a strong antidepressant behavioral response in the group compared to placebo. This study also used the HAM-D17 rating scale and noted significant improvements in the curcumin group. (10)
Turmeric appears to influence multiple biological mechanisms linked to major depression, such as oxidative stress pathways and immune-inflammatory activity. Curcumin also modulates monoaminergic action, which is responsible for regulating neurotransmitters, namely dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.
Next up is a randomized and double-blind trial containing 56 individuals with major depressive disorder. The subjects treated with either a 500 mg dosage of curcumin two times per day or a placebo for eight weeks. Two scoring systems measured the efficacy of turmeric on MDD symptomology during the study.
The results showed both curcumin and the placebo group yielded improvements from baseline to week four. However, from week four to eight, curcumin was substantially more effective than placebo at enhancing anxiety and mood-related symptoms. (11)
Further research examined the behavioral effects of curcumin in animals with chronic stress. By subjecting a rat group to chronic stress protocol for 20 days, there was a notable performance dip in the shuttle-box task, accompanied by several adverse physiological effects. The unwanted behavioral and physiological changes reversed themselves with curcumin administration. (12)
A similar trial also found significant behavioral improvements in a group of mice with Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) once curcumin entered the frame. After a 14-day treatment period with turmeric, the mice experienced the reversing of serotonin (5-HT) dysfunction. This result suggests the anxiolytic-like effects of turmeric may be beneficial for psychiatric disorders. (13)
Another animal study tested curcumin’s antidepressant mechanism of action on a group of mice. When administered with various antidepressant drugs, such as fluoxetine, venlafaxine, and bupropion, curcumin and piperine enhanced the anti-immobility effect. The study also noted a synergistic increase in serotonin levels. (14)
DHA is an essential consideration of brain health. Diets deficient in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid, have been linked to several cognitive disorders. DHA is essential for brain function, development, and neuroprotection. This fatty acid also plays a crucial role in the prevention of anxiety disorders and even depression.
Studies found that curcumin enhances DHA synthesis from its precursor, alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA). Turmeric also raises levels of enzymes involved in DHA synthesis. When supplementing curcumin and ALA together, one study demonstrated an anxiety-reducing effect in the behavior of rodents. (15)
Turmeric Dosage for Depression
What is the recommended turmeric dosage for depression? The human trials we looked at today used different dosing ranges between 250 mg and 1,000 mg of curcumin per day. These ranges have demonstrated excellent safety with no adverse side effects reported among the treatment groups.
Most turmeric supplements will contain between 1,000-1,500 mg of turmeric root powder and 150-250 mg of curcumin per serving. We recommend finding something that falls within that range. Start with one serving per day, assess the effects, and titrate upwards based on need.
Final Thoughts on Turmeric for Anxiety, Stress, and Depression
Can turmeric help anxiety, depression, and stress relief? The answer appears to be, yes. While we can’t proclaim that turmeric is a cure for depression, the human studies have indicated that curcumin is a good complementary treatment. It seems to have a positive impact on neurotransmitter balance and overall cognitive function. (16)
If you’re looking for a safe, all-natural supplement with antidepressant and anxiolytic effects, turmeric may be right for you. As always, please consult with a doctor or certified medical professional to see if curcumin can improve your mental health.