Can curcumin improve your mental health?
What if there’s a “cure” for depression? Not another Big Pharma, medication-for-life antidepressant with wicked side effects—but a natural, safe, plant-based cure, as in “no more depression—it’s over, here’s your life back—go and enjoy.”
Rocking the bedrock
It is largely accepted that depression is caused by an imbalance of chemicals, particularly serotonin and norepinephrine, in the brain.
Increasing and reducing those chemicals has long been the bedrock methodology of Big Pharma treatments.
But it’s all wrong.
It’s now been proven that depression is not a symptom of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Like nearly every other disease we can name, it’s a symptom of chronic inflammation.
That’s where perhaps today’s hottest new health hero steps up to the plate.
Yes, curcumin again. Hardly a week goes by without a story about curcumin’s amazing preventive and curative powers—for every disease from cardiovascular disorders to at least a dozen different kinds of cancer to neurodegenerative diseases.
There’s good, but limited, evidence that it even helps patients with bipolar disorder, or manic depression, a particularly vicious and often very destructive disease.
But the research already done and that underway all point to one thing.
This stuff is amazing, indeed.
The spice turmeric—the bright yellow seasoning used worldwide in countless delicious Asian, Indian, Indonesian, Mexican recipes—contains around five percent curcumin. If you regularly eat turmeric-rich foods, you probably get enough curcumin to enjoy some of its amazing health benefits.
If your diet is more Western, you’ll need to get your curcumin in supplement form. But please insist on a formula that makes curcumin easier to absorb. Without these added “bioavailability” enhancers, the curcumin exits your body very quickly and provides very little benefit. Increased bioavailability means curcumin stays in your system long enough to really help you.
How curcumin works its wonders
It may seem almost impossible that curcumin can do everything I mentioned. But remember, curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory, and inflammation is the source of just about every disease. (We have plenty of evidence, in fact, that people with acute inflammatory diseases are very often depressed.)
So whether inflammation is in your joints, your brain, your liver … curcumin knows what to do.
And if you are depressed and recognize any of these common sources of inflammation, you should talk with your doctor about curcumin.
Are you chronically inflamed?
With trillions of cellular interactions underway in our bodies every second, there’s no limit to the number that can cause inflammation.
Here are the top causes—all of which have been shown to respond to curcumin—and a few added measures to help speed up your return to health.
Always at the top of the list, thanks to the aptly acronymed Standard American Diet—SAD. The presence of chemicals and preservatives, the refined flour, excess sugar, oxidized fats, and trans-fats are only part of the problem. The lack of inflammation-reducing foods like long-chain omega-3’s, fermented foods, and fermentable fiber in our diets complete this recipe for diet-related depression.
Solution? Practice safe eating—organic, local, heavy on fruits, veggies, and healthy oils and fats—the Mediterranean Diet, for example.
Obesity is itself an inflammatory state closely linked to depression, with all of the SAD problems above contributing to what has become an epidemic in the US.
Solution? Eat fewer calories, concentrated in healthier foods, in order to lose weight. Research has shown that obese people have elevated levels of an inflammatory agent cytokine—which decrease as weight is decreased. Also see below for exercise, a great preventive and healer.
Numerous studies have linked unfavorable changes to the bacteria inhabiting our gut with major depression. And conditions like leaky gut, where the intestines become permeable, and allow inflammatory agents to escape into the bloodstream, are closely linked to depression.
Solution? Healthy diet, with emphasis on probiotics to keep the gut in top working order.
Stress has been shown to stimulate production and activity of inflammatory cytokines. It’s been found that even thinking about a stressful situation can cause an increase in cytokine activity, which is linked to depressive symptoms.
Solution? De-stress with yoga, meditation, t’ai chi, qi gong, exercise … and positive self-talk.
We have boatloads of evidence that exercise is as effective, or more effective, than antidepressant drugs. And the power of exercise isn’t limited to people with depression—it can prevent depression from ever developing.
Solution? Just do it. Even if it’s just a walk around the house, apartment, or neighborhood. Fifteen minutes a day, on most days, will make a difference. The more, up to about an hour of low intensity activity daily or 30 minutes of moderate to high intensity, will see more benefits.
Chronic poor sleep increases the presence of inflammation signals—even in otherwise healthy people. The link to depression is well established.
Solution? Once again, it’s what you eat, which is strongly linked to poor sleep. Avoid eating anything within 2-3 hours of bed time, and dinnertime meals high in fat, processed sugar, and refined carbs—focus on fruits, veggies, and good fiber.
Chronic infections produce chronic inflammation, making them an indisputable source of depression. Whether the infection is caused by bacteria, virus, fungi, or parasites, when it’s chronic, it’s dangerous.
Solution? Diet and exercise vastly improve your immune system’s ability to prevent or eliminate infections. But if it’s chronic, get it treated.
Dental caries and periodontal disease
These are known sources of chronic inflammation, and certainly belong on any list of possible causes of depression. In a study of over 80,000 adults, for example, people with depression were more likely to experience tooth loss than non-depressed people.
Solution? Brush twice daily at least—but ideally after every meal. And floss at least that often.
Vitamin D deficiency
We see an increasing number of links between vitamin D deficiency and depression. This is worrisome—I see low levels of vitamin D in almost 100 percent of my patients.
Solution? If you’re D-deficient, be sure you get your 15 minutes of direct sunlight every day, and if not, take 1500 IU of D3 daily (stay away from D2, it’s cheaper and far less effective).
Has curcumin sealed the deal?
Curcumin’s proven role in relieving or preventing the agony of depression is easily the best news millions of people using antidepressant drugs could hear. And some of the worst Big Pharma could hear, considering this inexpensive spice threatens their $10 billion dollar market.
There are very few, very minor, and very rare cautions about curcumin. The only one you and your doctor should definitely know about: it’s a blood thinner, so if you’re already on a thinning regimen, think twice before adding curcumin.
For most people, research shows that 500 mg, twice a day, and up to four times a day, is just what the doctor ordered.
Take good care.
- Phelps, James. “Curcumin: New Use for an Old Spice?” Published November, 2016. Last accessed December 17, 2016.
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- Kresser, Chris. “Is Depression a Disease—or a Symptom of Inflammation?” Published August 19, 2014. Last accessed December 18, 2016.
- Elkins, Chris. “Hooked on Pharmaceuticals: Prescription Drug Abuse in America.” Published July 29th, 2015. Last accessed December 18, 2016.
- Calderone, Julia. “The Rise of All-Purpose Antidepressants.” Scientific American MIND. Published November 1, 2014. Last accessed December 18, 2016.
- Karter, Justin. “Percentage of Americans on Antidepressants Nearly Doubles.” MAD IN AMERICA. Published November 6, 2015. Last accessed December 18, 2016.
- Krans, Brian. “Dwelling on Stressful Events Increases Inflammation in the Body.” Published March 18, 2013. Last accessed December 18, 2016.
- Brogan, Kelly. “Inflammation Begets Depression: New Data.” Published NA. Last accessed December 18, 2016.
Last Updated: March 28, 2020
Originally Published: January 9, 2017