September 16, 2014

Treating Depression: Curcumin is Equal to Prosac and Better than Placebo

I continue to see positive reports about curcumin, the active ingredient in the Indian curry spice turmeric. This week, an Australian study reported that the supplement might relieve symptoms of major depression better than a placebo. 

First, to set the stage, here's a brief video about a 2013 study that compared curcumin to Prozac: 

Dr. Ajay Goel is director of epigenetics and cancer prevention at the Gastrointestinal Cancer Research Lab at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. He is now researching the prevention of gastrointestinal cancers using integrative and alternative approaches, including botanical products.

Earlier research, mostly with laboratory animals, suggested that curcumin has antidepressant properties. Eager to test the supplement's efficacy on humans, Dr. Goel and his team divided 60 subjects into three group of 20 each:

  • Group 1: took 500mg of curcumin twice daily.
  • Group 2: took Prozac.
  • Group 3: took a combination of both.
After six weeks, the team evaluated subjects' symptoms using a standardized depression test that tracks mood, suicidal thoughts, insomnia, agitation, anxiety, weight loss, and other factors. The results? As Goel reported in the journal Phytotherapy Research, curcumin had roughly the same beneficial impact as Prozac.
It was a surprise to us to see that curcumin actually worked as good as the antidepressant. So this is amazing news. Yes, we still need to validate, we need to do further studies. But this initial evidence is very encouraging, considering that curcumin is safe, it is non-toxic, and it has many more beneficial effects… besides its ability to control depression.
Goel said that medication is an appropriate treatment for depression, but can pose long-term risks.
These antidepressants, they are fine if you're taking them for a short time, but as you know depression is a chronic disease so the problem happens when you take these antidepressants for a long time. And when you do that you put yourself at risk for developing side effects and toxicity.
Curcumin's Other Benefits
In 2012, Dr. Goel showed that 500mg twice daily of a particular form of curcumin -- BCM-95 -- was equivalent in efficacy to 50mg twice a day of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac in reducing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

His group has also shown that curcumin is helpful in preventing cancers of the colon, breast, and prostate.
It is proven over and over. And all these effects are due to the fact that curcumin is a very, very strong anti-inflammatory compound. Inflammation is the root cause of most chronic diseases. If we can reduce inflammation, we can reduce all of these things. Curcumin provides an effective natural way of doing this with very low risk of adverse effects.
Two years ago I reported on BCM-95's excellent bioavailability -- its ability to cross the often tricky blood/brain barrier. Based on those findings, I started taking that particular variety of curcumin. But recently I switched to the Longvida version of curcumin for reasons outlined in this report.

New Study Also Finds Curcumin Fights Depression
OK, back to the findings from that Australian study mentioned at the top of this post: curcumin relieved symptoms of depression better than a placebo. The study was published in August in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving 56 individuals, researchers tested the effects of 500mg of curcumin administered twice a day for eight weeks.

During the first four weeks, they saw no difference in symptoms between the curcumin and placebo groups. However, throughout the second four weeks, the spice worked significantly better than the placebo in alleviating the illness's mood-related symptoms.

Reasons to Favor Curcumin in Treating Depression
Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, Director of the Practitioners Alliance Network, said he prefers a highly absorbable form of curcumin to antidepressant drugs for many reasons. He contrasted curcumin’s multiple mechanisms of action and side benefits against the potential for serious side effects from drugs like Prozac. He elaborated:

The spice fights depression in a variety of ways:
  • Restores levels of serotonin and dopamine, the brain neurotransmitter called “happiness molecules.”
  • Enhances the activity of other antidepressants, allowing a lower dose and fewer side effects.
  • Slows neurotransmitter breakdown.
  • Helps the regrowth of healthy new brain cells, especially in the frontal lobe, the region where thought centers are located.
Curcumin involves side benefits rather than side effects. Some advantages:
  • Less inflammation
  • Pain relief
  • Cancer prevention
  • Lower Alzheimer’s risk
Prozac has a long list of side effects, including, but not limited to:
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Inability to orgasm
  • Mood dulling
  • Suicidal and homicidal outbursts
  • Weight gain
When you compare varieties of highly absorbable curcumin -- like BCM-95 and Longvida -- with antidepressant drugs, it makes sense to choose the botanical for mild to moderate depression.

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