Curcumin — A Novel Treatment for Depression?

By Dr. Ajay Goel

About 1 in 10 Americans report symptoms of depression, and the causes can be as varied as the individuals reporting them.1 Unfortunately, many of the current therapeutic drugs for depression are truly only effective and safe in the short term. When taken long term, these medications may cause sedation, weight gain or physical sensations of numbness or pain.

Finding an effective, long-term and natural therapeutic agent — whether as a stand-alone or add-on therapy — has been difficult. While St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) has solid studies supporting its use in cases of mild and moderate depression, it hasn’t been found as effective for those with major depressive disorder.2-8 However, current research and traditional practice point to an effective alternative botanical compound: a specialized, high-absorption curcumin blended with turmeric essential oils.

A long history of healing

Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric (Curcuma longa) has well-noted anti-inflammatory ability. It has been used to heal stress, mania and other depression-like conditions for centuries.9-11 Curcumin reverses the physical effects of stress and depression. It reduces inflammatory markers in the bloodstream that travel to the brain, and it prevents low levels of serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. Additionally, laboratory research shows that curcumin promotes neurogenesis (brain cell formation).12-14

Clinical evidence

Recently, a clinical study using curcumin was conducted with individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD). This randomized, controlled clinical trial compared the efficacy and safety of high absorption BCM-95 Curcumin (curcumin blended with turmeric essential oils to boost absorption) versus the prescription anti-depressive fluoxetine (alone or in combination) to determine whether this curcumin could be a viable therapeutic treatment for patients with MDD.15

To qualify for inclusion in the trial, the patients were required to be 18 years or older, diagnosed with MDD  and score more than seven on Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAMD-17), a standard diagnostic tool used for interviewing and screening patients with possible depression.

The highest proportion of response, measured by the HAMD-17, was in the group using the combination of fluoxetine and high-absorption curcumin at 77.8 percent.15

Interestingly, the single-therapy groups scored almost exactly the same, with fluoxetine at 64.7 percent and curcumin at 62.5 percent — numbers so close that the data is not statistically significant from one another.15

There are two important conclusions from the result of this study. First, curcumin worked as well as the prescription drug fluoxetine in terms of the measurable changes in the HAMD-17 score from baseline to six weeks of treatment. Second, this study provides the first human clinical indication that curcumin may be used as an effective and safe treatment for patients with MDD without causing concurrent suicidal ideation or other psychotic disorders.15

High-absorption curcumin = greater efficacy

Curcumin in its plain extract form can be difficult for the body to absorb and use. However, there have been improvements and enhancements in curcumin extracts that help extend the reach of the compound beyond that seen in standardized 95 percent extracts. That’s why the curcumin used in the studies was a specialized, high-absorption form called BCM-95 Curcumin. It combines a curcumin extract with turmeric essential oils, and it has up to 10 times the absorption and greater blood retention time than standard curcumin extracts.16-18

Depression is a worldwide health issue with treatment options that vary in effectiveness and safety. While prescription medications can play a therapeutic role, there is new evidence that shows that this specific curcumin extract — may help develop a more holistic and risk-free form of intervention.19


Dr. Ajay Goel, Ph.D., is Director of Epigenetics and Cancer Prevention at the Baylor Research Institute, and an Investigator at the Gastrointestinal Cancer Research Lab at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, TX. Dr. Goel is a member of the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Gastroenterology Association and is on the editorial boards of Gastroenterology, Clinical Cancer Research, PloS One, World Journal of Gastroenterology and World Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology.


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