Curcuma Longa, commonly known as turmeric, is an indigenous plant of South east Asia which is part of the ginger family. Primarily farmed in India, the turmeric root has been used in cooking and in traditional medicine for centuries.
In traditional holistic medicine, such as Ayurveda in India and in Chinese medicine, turmeric has long been used to treat skin conditions, digestive issues, the upper respiratory tract and joints, and even mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. These days, aside from being a vibrant staple on many a kitchen's spice rack, turmeric is growing in popularity as a health supplement.
Turmeric is mostly known for its anti-inflammatory properties; with proven potency in supporting the immune system, aiding with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and also easing skin issues.
The potential benefits of turmeric as a natural support for tackling depression are now re-emerging with scientific research. Depression is a modern mental health phenomenon affecting the lives of many. As we face a global pandemic, the statistics of depression diagnosis have risen to unprecedented levels, with anti-depressant use in the UK reaching an all time high. The treatment options for depression are in some respects limited, and so mental health experts continue to research alternative therapies and treatment approaches for better results.
In 2014, an Australian study revealed results for how curcumin (the active component in turmeric) can alleviate symptoms of MDD (major depression disorder). The study involved prescribing 56 individuals 500mg of curcumin twice daily for eight weeks. The participants had all charted the level and frequency at which of their depressive symptoms using the Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology self rated scale (IDS-SR). Following that, participants also charted their anxiety levels using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI).
The treatment group demonstrated an alleviation in symptoms of both depression and anxiety, with results being compared to those of a placebo administered to some of the subjects.
In addition, those who suffered from what is known as atypical depression seemed to display even more benefit from curcumin. With atypical depression symptoms include insomnia, an increase in appetite, weight gain and tiredness; which is quite contrary to the symptoms experienced with other forms of major depression, with oversleeping, loss of appetite and a stagnantly low mood being common factors. The results of the test overall proved that high doses of curcumin taken regularly can have antidepressant effects.
How does turmeric help alleviate depression?
It has been proven from a multitude of other studies that curcumin has potency in modulating neurotransmitter concentrations; modulating monoaminergic action, which is responsible for regulating neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. It would also appear that curcumin has an influence on biological mechanisms such as excitotoxicity, neuroplasticity and the endocannabinoid system, all of which can be involved in MDD (major depressive disorder) pathophysiology.
“Curcumin, the principal curcuminoid from the spice turmeric, influences several biological mechanisms associated with major depression, namely those associated with monoaminergic activity, immune-inflammatory and oxidative and nitrosative stress pathways, hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity, and neuroprogression,” the Journal of Affect Disorders researchers' state.
Although the effects are clearly beneficial, the exact mechanism of turmeric's neuroprotective function is not yet fully understood. Given that atypical depression is often linked with high levels of inflammation, it is likely that the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric play a role in alleviating its symptoms. What's more, curcumin has highly antioxidant properties which are also considered to contribute to its neuroprotective action.
This study in 2014 has lead to many other in depth scientific tests, increasing evidence and support for the antidepressant benefits of curcumin, which is a very positive and hopeful turn. If we can find effective, reliable natural solutions to growing mental health conditions such as depression, as a society perhaps we would witness a gradual shift from patients receiving long term prescriptions to chemical antidepressants (which are not without their side effects), with the benefits of regular turmeric ingestion extending beyond its psychological benefits, and in turn supporting the body's many functions.