Curcumin, the active ingredient in the Indian spice turmeric, is a polyphenol with over 160 potentially therapeutic activities, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects.1
Importantly, it has the ability to cross your blood-brain barrier and exhibits potent neuroprotective properties, suggesting it may be useful for neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease. Recent research also suggests it may be helpful against depression.
Remember, though, that curcumin is very poorly absorbed, so if you want to use it therapeutically, make sure you use a supplement that is optimized for maximum absorption; otherwise you won't get the results described below. Many believe that using black pepper helps. And while it does, it is only a marginal increase.
Curcumin Helps Relieve Depressive Symptoms
According to a meta-analysis2 of six short-term, placebo-controlled clinical trials, curcumin "appears to be safe, well-tolerated and efficacious among depressed patients," and could serve as a "novel antidepressant." Three of the trials also reported significant anti-anxiety effects.
Another recent study3,4 evaluating curcumin's effect on depression was done in Australia. A total of 123 people diagnosed with major depressive disorder were included in the double-blind, randomized study, receiving one of four treatments for 12 weeks:
- Low-dose (250 mg) curcumin extract
- High-dose (500 mg) curcumin extract
- Low-dose curcumin extract with 15 mg of saffron
Compared to placebo, all three treatment groups experienced improvement in their symptoms. Curcumin was particularly effective for those with atypical depression. Interestingly, there was no significant difference in efficacy between high and low dosages. According to the authors:
These findings suggest that there was insufficient power in the study to detect group differences, or that there was a ceiling antidepressant effect of these natural spices. This ceiling may have been achieved with the administration of the low-dose curcumin alone. The inclusion of a stand-alone saffron condition would be desirable in future studies.