Study Spotlight

Study Spotlight

Curcumin fights depression and more


Whether you deal with seasonal affected disorder (SAD), and dread the coming of winter, or are struggling with depression, curcumin may provide an answer.

In recent years, studies with this valuable compound from turmeric (Curcuma longa) have shown promising results.

For example, a recent study examined two different levels of curcumin, curcumin combined with saffron or a placebo. The individuals in this trial were diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), and a subset of MDD, called “atypical depression”. People with atypical depression don’t respond well to conventional treatment.

The results were impressive. One of the tools used to gauge the level of depression in this study was the Inventory of Depressive Symptomology (IDS). When people improve on the IDS scale, it doesn’t take large percentages to show a huge difference. In this case, a third of the participants improved more than 50 percent on the IDS scale. This means that some were likely no longer even in the category of major depression following treatment. Even at lower doses, there was an improvement, which shows how well a person can respond to alleviating the inflammation that can affect the brain.

A Brazilian review proposes that while more investigation needs to be done, curcumin may provide meaningful assistance not only for depression, but also for anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and autism spectrum disorders as well.

The Studies

Kaufmann FN, Gazal M, Bastos CR, Kaster MP, Ghisleni G. Curcumin in depressive disorders: An overview of potential mechanisms, preclinical and clinical findings. Eur J Pharmacol. 2016 Aug 5;784:192-8.

Considering the high prevalence of psychiatric disorders, its social burden and the limitations of currently available treatments, alternative therapeutic approaches targeting different biological pathways have been investigated. Curcumin is a natural compound with multi-faceted pharmacological properties, interacting with several neurotransmitter systems and intracellular signaling pathways involved in mood regulation. Also, curcumin has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neurotrophic effects, suggesting a strong potential to manage conditions associated with neurodegeneration, such as psychiatric disorders. Most literature data focused on the potential of curcumin to counteract behavioral and neurochemical alterations in preclinical models of depression. The findings still need to be further explored and clinical reports share some controversial results that might be associated with its low systemic bioavailability following oral administration. Other psychiatric disorders also have neurochemical alterations similar to those found in depression, including neurotoxicity, oxidative stress and neuroinflammation. Despite the limited number of reports, preclinical models investigated the potential role for curcumin in anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and autism spectrum disorders. Here, we will summarize the cellular targets of curcumin relevant to psychiatric disorders and its effects in preclinical and clinical studies with depression, anxiety disorders and other psychiatric related conditions.

Link to Abstract

Lopresti AL, Drummond PD. Efficacy of curcumin, and a saffron/curcumin combination for the treatment of major depression: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Affect Disord. 2017 Jan 1;207:188-196

BACKGROUND: Several studies have supported the antidepressant effects of curcumin (from the spice turmeric) and saffron for people with major depressive disorder. However, these studies have been hampered by poor designs, small sample sizes, short treatment duration, and similar intervention dosages. Furthermore, the antidepressant effects of combined curcumin and saffron administration are unknown.

METHODS: In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 123 individuals with major depressive disorder were allocated to one of four treatment conditions, comprising placebo, low-dose curcumin extract (250mg b.i.d.), high-dose curcumin extract (500mg b.i.d.), or combined low-dose curcumin extract plus saffron (15mg b.i.d.) for 12 weeks. The outcome measures were the Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology self-rated version (IDS-SR30) and Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI).

RESULTS: The active drug treatments (combined) were associated with significantly greater improvements in depressive symptoms compared to placebo (p=.031), and superior improvements in STAI-state (p<.001) and STAI-trait scores (p=.001). Active drug treatments also had greater efficacy in people with atypical depression compared to the remainder of patients (response rates of 65% versus 35% respectively, p=.012). No differences were found between the differing doses of curcumin or the curcumin/saffron combination.

LIMITATIONS: Investigations with larger sample sizes are required to examine the efficacy of differing doses of curcumin and saffron/curcumin combination. Its effects in people with atypical depression also require examination in larger scale studies.

CONCLUSIONS: Active drug treatments comprising differing doses of curcumin and combined curcumin/saffron were effective in reducing depressive and anxiolytic symptoms in people with major depressive disorder.

Link to abstract

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