Can I treat my depression using curcumin instead of medication?

You absolutely can use curcumin for depression. There have been several randomized-controlled trials showing effectiveness specifically for depression. Curcumin targets neuroinflammation which has a strong role in causing depressive symptoms. There are bioavailable forms of curcumin that people with depression can take for improved results. It can be used with or without medication.

Introduction

This blog post is one in a series about antioxidants that may be helpful for depression and includes Curcumin, Quercetin, and OPCs.

I am not going to bore you with the information that curcumin comes from the turmeric root. Because I am pretty sure you either already know that or could find 100 blog posts talking about that.

Instead, I am going to teach you that curcumin has several mechanisms that may help reduce depression. The two mechanisms of action that are perhaps the most relevant in psychiatric disorders such as depression are its power as an antioxidant and its neuroprotective effects.

If you review the literature yourself, you may point out that there are not a lot of studies showing curcumin as an effective treatment for depression. A major reason for this is that most research is looking at cognitive functioning. And so people with depression are ruled out of those studies because the cognitive problems that are a part of depression would be a confounding variable in the studies trying to tease out curcumin’s effects on dementias.

That is not to say there are no clinical trials on the use of curcumin and depression. There are several, and there have been some using it with and without medication.

In all trials, the studied individuals evidenced a marked improvement in depression-related symptoms, assessed through using relevant scales.

Rathore, S., Mukim, M., Sharma, P., Devi, S., Nagar, J. C., & Khalid, M. (2020). Curcumin: A Review for Health Benefits. https://www.ijrrjournal.com/IJRR_Vol.7_Issue.1_Jan2020/Abstract_IJRR0039.html

Between the existing RCTs and the research on the effects of curcumin on inflammation, there is every reason to consider curcumin as a treatment. We have already identified some of the underlying pathologies of depression in prior blog posts, and so we know that targeting inflammation is an excellent treatment strategy for treating depression without medication (or with it you choose it).

How does curcumin work to reduce neuroinflammation and depression?

People suffering from depression have a lot of brain inflammation. So anything that can powerfully reduce the production of free radicals caused by oxidative damage will be beneficial. The antioxidant properties of curcumin reduce oxidative stress in the brain, slowing down neurodegenerative aging. 

But I am a young person, you may say. I thought this blog post was about depression. Not some kind of dementia, like Alzheimer’s disease.

I am here to inform you that your age doesn’t matter. The term neurodegenerative aging still applies.

Unchecked levels of oxidative stress, like what you are likely experiencing with your depression, will age your brain faster than it needs to age. You can be 24 years old, and if you have depression and the neuroinflammation that goes with that, you are experiencing neurodegenerative aging. Curcumin can slow that down by fighting those free radicals and reducing oxidative stress. The neuroprotective effects of curcumin are helpful in the depressed brain suffering from inflammation. 

Besides being an antioxidant, curcumin also calms down microglial activity. Microglia are cells that activate when they sense an assault (e.g., high blood sugar, allergen, environmental toxin, big stressor, etc.) is happening in the brain. They create an immune response in the brain that releases inflammatory cytokines in an effort to protect the brain from all kinds of potential assaults. But in releasing cytokines, there is increased inflammation. 

Specific inflammatory markers we see reduced with Curcumin are IL-17, TNF-α, IL-6, TGF-β, and MCP-1.

You have to have enough micronutrients and a healthy endogenous antioxidant system to repair the damage after your microglial become activated. And if you are depressed, it is likely you are in short supply of exactly those two things. So any substance that calms down or balances the immune system activity of the microglial cell may be helpful in reducing inflammation in the brain. 

What else can curcumin do to help depression?

Besides reducing neuroinflammation and oxidative stress with its impressive antioxidant capabilities, curcumin can do a host of other antidepressant mechanisms that may help you treat your depression.

Modulation of the production of several neurotransmitter precursors that lead to increases in the production of serotonin and dopamine in the frontal cortex. These are neurotransmitters we generally see shortages of in depression. 

Enhancement of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that helps brains heal, rebuild and make new memories. This is important because brain cells need to recover from cellular damage due to oxidative stress and inflammation. And any depressed person will tell you that impaired short-term memory is genuinely a problem.

Enhancement of the cyclic AMP pathway (AC-cAMP), which creates adenosine. And guess what? Adenosine helps regulate inflammation. It also plays a role in the production of GABA. GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps you feel relaxed and not overwhelmed, and it is often insufficiently produced in the depressed brain suffering from neuroinflammation. 

Curcumin is a natural CB1 receptor antagonist. CB1 receptor antagonist medications are currently being used to treat psychiatric disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. They modulate glutamate and GABA release, two opposing neurotransmitters that are seen to be imbalanced in many psychiatric disorders, including depression. 

It also works as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters. So curcumin not only increases neurotransmitter production, as discussed above, but also helps those neurotransmitters hang out in the synaptic cleft longer. You have probably heard of monoamine oxidase inhibitors as a medication for depression. Same mechanism. No prescription or side effects. 

What is the best curcumin to take?

Curcumin is not very bioavailable. Formulations with black pepper can increase its bioavailability by 2000%. Adding fat or a healthy oil can also increase bioavailability. 

My go-to supplement for neuroinflammation is Curcumisorb Mind. All of the antioxidant substances in this supplement are made for enhanced bioavailability. It has a combination of antioxidants which seems to improve outcomes. The first is an affiliate link, and the second is not.

Curcumisorb Mind – Pure Encapsulations

Another high-quality supplement that has been seen to be effective in the research literature, especially for cognitive symptoms, is Theracurmin. It is also designed for the highest bioavailability. 

Of course, there are less expensive options that are high quality but provide much smaller doses. This option, provided in the affiliate link below, also uses a form with improved bioavailability. 

Another form of curcumin that has been found to be more highly absorbable is Meriva, a phospholipid formation that has been well researched. The below affiliate link provides a sustained release version.

Another option is to get just a regular, plain (hopefully organic) turmeric or curcumin supplement and pair it with a piperine supplement. Piperine supplements are the active substance in black pepper that increases the absorbability of curcumin by 2000%. The below affiliate link is one of many piperine supplements you can use.

BioPerine – Black Pepper Fruit Extract – 10 MG (120 Tablets)

How do I use curcumin to reduce neuroinflammation and help my depression?

For Curcumasorb Mind specifically, the dose is 1x per day, unless you are dealing with significant cognitive decline, and then 2x a day is used. You can determine your dosage better with this information. If you have a lot of cognitive symptoms that are a part of your depression, you may do best with 2x a day for this specific supplement.

If you choose Meriva, you will want 150 mg 2x per day.

Theracurmin is dosed at 90mg 2x per day.

And if you take a less bioavailable form of curcumin, you will take 90 mg 2x per day alongside a piperine supplement of 5mg.

Will curcumin cure my depression?

You can see the results of curcumin supplementation in about 12 weeks, or it may take 18 months. Assuming that the other things you are doing in your life that are causing inflammation are not too much for your supplement to counter. 

Poor sleep, environmental toxins, highly-processed diets full of sugar, and other inflammatory factors or activities are major causes of your depression.

A supplement like curcumin will not encourage you to get functional testing done to figure out where some of that inflammation might be coming from. Curcumin is not going to encourage you to eat more nutrient-rich food, get out in the sun, go for a walk or find less stressful relationships. It won’t tell you to practice yoga or do the host of other lifestyle factors that will stop the source of your inflammation or, at the very least, reduce it.

Changing your diet and your lifestyle would actually be a more powerful intervention. I highly recommend a ketogenic diet for clinical depression.

But in terms of attempting to reduce the symptoms of depression you are experiencing right now, curcumin would likely be helpful. Using curcumin or a combination of antioxidants that include it could help reduce your neuroinflammation enough that you could even think about making bigger and better changes. 

Conclusion

As always, this blog is informational and not medical advice.

If you happen to have your 23andme genetic data, you can visit this amazing site called Genetic Life Hacks (affiliate) and learn how well your genes allow you to express the underlying mechanisms in curcumin. This is a great site to explore if you have your data. This link is specifically about inflammation!

If you do not have your data and would like to learn about nutrigenomics and how you can fine-tune your supplement choices toward your health goals, you can get your testing done there, through this affiliate link if you like! 23andMe. Remember, a portion of your 23andMe can be paid for with your HSA or FSA if you have that benefit.

If you found the above article helpful, you will want to read these three that expand on the information you just learned! You might want to learn where all the neuroinflammation comes from in the first place. And you may want to learn more ways that you can feel better.

If you want to learn more about the underlying mechanisms that cause depression in more detail, I highly recommend these posts on the topic.

If you currently have a prescriber that has no idea why you are bringing any of these natural treatments up, you may need to find a prescriber that practices functional psychiatry and is willing to talk about different options. Especially if you are already taking medications for your depression.

I am a mental health counselor who practices functional and nutritional psychiatry principles, so feel free to contact me if you would like help on your healing journey. You can learn more about me, and my telehealth and teleconsultation work with clients here.

Like what you are reading on the blog? Want to learn about upcoming webinars, courses, and even offers around support and working with me towards your wellness goals? Sign up!

References

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