Curcumin is the biological active constituent of turmeric spice. It has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that are found beneficial in preventing and reversing neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, depression, epilepsy, cancer, diabetic neuropathy and other related problems.
Turmeric, the yellow spice that gives colour to curry, is the powdered rhizome of the plant Curcuma longa (Family Zingiberaceae). It is traditionally used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for treatment of various ailments. Curcumin, the main phytochemical component of turmeric has demonstrated antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-hyperlipidemic, antihypertensive, antithrombotic, antidepressant, antidiabetic, antitumor, anti-carcinogenic, antiphlogistic, antipsoriasis, antihepatotoxic, analgesic and other healing properties.
The Curcumin Health Benefits are Many
Curcumin molecule also provides neuroprotective benefits by penetrating the blood-brain barrier, effectively. In animal studies, besides enhancing nerve growth in the frontal cortex and hippocampus areas of the brain, curcumin has inhibited reactive astrocyte expression and thus, prevented cell death in these areas.
Curcumin in Depression
Depression is a neurological disorder, where due to imbalance of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) person suffers from irritable mood, significant weight loss or gain, decreased interest in pleasurable activities, insomnia or hypersomnia, psychomotor agitation or retardation, fatigue or loss of energy, feeling of worthlessness or excessive guilt, decreased concentrating power and increase in suicidal tendencies.
Various factors like hormonal imbalance, genetic changes, difficult life situations and other medical problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases or stroke; make people prone to depression. Though, anti-depressant drugs are available but have various side-effects, so there is an urgent need of effective natural remedies for depression.
Curcumin May Influence Physiological Mechanisms
Curcumin has been found to influence several physiological mechanisms in the body, which can be helpful in relieving depression. It has shown neuroprotective and antidepressant activity in various animal models of depression through modulating the release of various neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine) and increasing the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
Both of these factors are vital for brain function, while neurotransmitters carry the signals of neurons and allow each brain cell to communicate with each other, the BDNF protein is required for survival and development of brain cells and helps in building and maintaining the brain circuits for signals to travel.
Curcumin May Inhibit Neurodegenerative Disease
Research shows that curcumin inhibits the activity of monoamine oxidase enzymes that are involved in the degradation of neurotransmitters and thus, increases neurotransmitters’ concentration in the synapses and prolongs their action. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of curcumin are also found beneficial in treating chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, the major causative and consequential factors of depression and other neurodegenerative diseases.
A Possible Cognitive Enhancer
Further, animal studies show that curcumin is effective in ameliorating other symptoms associated with depression such as anxiety, cognitive deficits, fatigue, mood swings and insomnia by increasing BDNF levels and decreasing inflammatory cytokines and salivary cortisol. Infact, curcumin is identified as a novel ‘cognitive enhancer’ that has the potential to reverse depression induced detrimental effects on thinking, learning and memory.
Several studies in humans also prove curcumin as an effective antidepressant and neuroprotective agent. In 2014, a study by Sanmukhani et al found curcumin to be as effective as standard antidepressant, Prozac or Fluoxetine. This study provided first clinical evidence to suggest the use of curcumin in Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Another study by Lopresti et.al in 2015 identified potential biomarkers (i.e. leptin and endothelin-1) that are associated with curcumin’s antidepressant mechanisms.
Interestingly, research shows that curcumin has a synergetic effect with certain antidepressants drugs and can be used as add-on therapy to improve brain related parameters and reduce inflammatory enzymes and stress hormones levels. In this way, as add-on therapy curcumin provides rapid relief in depressive symptoms and improvement in overall health of depressed individuals.
Curcumin in Diabetic Neuropathy
Diabetic neuropathic pain is a complication of diabetes, as people with high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) eventually develop nerve damage. The symptoms include deep pain in the feet and legs, tingling or burning sensation in the feet, muscular cramps, numbness, loss of the sense of warm or cold, and weakness. To treat symptoms of neuropathic pain various antidepressants, antiseizure medications, anti-inflammatory, opioids and capsaicin are used, but they have certain side-effects.
The anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin have shown protective effect in diabetic neuropathy. In animal models, it has effectively increased the pain threshold and thus can be used as a therapeutic option in the treatment of neuropathic pain associated with diabetes mellitus. The good news is, it is not addictive in nature and can even help in easing side effects and withdrawal symptoms of other opioid painkillers.
Infact, due to its strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties turmeric and curcumin supplements are found effective in prevention and treatment of all chronic inflammation related degenerative conditions such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Curcumin Dosage: Evidence suggests that both, turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin have significant neuroprotective and antidepressant properties. While, dietary turmeric can be used in mild to moderate depression, its supplement form benefit as add-on therapy in Major Depressive Disorder. Turmeric supplementation of longer duration (more than 4-6 weeks) has shown significant results in reducing inflammation, and improving brain function and overall health of individuals.
- In Diet: Boost your brain health by including 1-2 teaspoon of turmeric in your cooking. However, turmeric has low bioavailability, so to improve its absorption, take it with black pepper and some fats. Also, you can take turmeric milk or turmeric tea before bed, it is found helpful in improving sleep.
- Supplement: A combination of curcumin (1000mg) with piperine (10mg) supplement per day is safe and effective as add-on therapy to standard anti-depressants. However, keep 3-4 hours time gap between these supplements and other medicines.
Precaution: Turmeric has no side effects but if high doses are taken on empty stomach, it may cause acid reflux. Also, consult your doctor before taking turmeric supplements in case you are pregnant, lactating, taking blood thinners or suffering from bleeding disorder, gallstones, gout, kidney stones. Finally, turmeric or curcumin supplement are not meant to replace medical treatment, so seek your doctor’s advice to taper your antidepressants requirements accordingly.