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Depression is serious and far more common than people might guess. About 1 in 10 Americans report symptoms of the disease, and seek treatment in a variety of ways, but with varying success.1

The causes of depression can be as varied as the individuals reporting them.

Certainly, traumatic events and chronic stress can bring about depression. But so can hypothyroidism, cancer and cancer treatment, and lack of sleep.  Lack of proper nutrition can’t be ruled out either, and given the popularity of inflammation-causing diets, it is very likely that there would be emotional and mental consequences.

Depression Damages the Brain

Whatever the cause, in depression, our brain pathways don’t function properly. The chemicals in our brains that instill a sense of well-being get misdirected. Because the biochemistry behind depression can be so elusive, there are vast amounts of medications prescribed each year for depression, but they generally only modify or inhibit nerve signals to the brain. Unlike curcumin, they can’t address the inflammation and oxidative damage that acts as a physical reason for the disease.

Stress and anxiety can overload a person’s ability to cope and create oxidative damage and inflammation in the brain. Because curcumin has such a strong ability as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, it can reduce damage to DNA in the brain and reverse the other physical effects of stress and depression. This is one of the reasons it should be considered a potential treatment for the condition.

Curcumin reduces the inflammatory markers in the bloodstream which travel through the brain. It also prevents the low levels of serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine that tend to mark depressive symptoms. Interestingly, research also shows that curcumin promotes neurogenesis – brain cell formation -- notably in the frontal cortex and hippocampal regions of the brain, meaning that this extract could be a breakthrough physiological treatment for depression and a number of cognitive conditions. 2-5

Curcumin Compared to Prescription Drugs

A recently published study gauged the antidepressant potential of the extract compared to prescription drugs. In this study, curcumin was compared to fluoxetine (one brand name is Prozac®) and imipramine (one brand name is Tofranil) in a scientific model of depression.5 It was also studied as an “add on” therapy with these commonly prescribed drugs.

Seven groups in total were tested, with one untreated group serving as a control, and others either with two different dosage levels of curcumin only, each prescription drug only, or each prescription drug paired with curcumin as an “add on” therapy.

The results in the curcumin groups were impressive. The high-absorption curcumin extract was just as effective as alleviating symptoms of depression as either prescription drug, but had none of the side effects (which include drowsiness and sedation, and some loss of motor skills).

In fact, the side effects are so strong that curcumin was unable to curb them when it was combined in treatment with the drugs.

Curcumin Helps Boost Natural “Feel Good” Chemicals In the Brain

The researchers consider that the success of curcumin’s antidepressant activity could be due to “an increase in serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine levels in the brain.” This study also showed that curcumin significantly stimulated neurogenesis.  And it should be noted that there were no safety issues with the curcumin use as well.5

As with the causes of depression, treatments can vary for each individual. Curcumin may provide a natural option, but not necessarily the only one. If you are currently seeking treatment for depression, please talk to your healthcare provider before adding anything else to your regimen.


  1.  “Depression.” Available at: Accessed: February 12, 2013.
  2. Xu Y, Ku BS, Yao HY, Lin YH, Ma X, Zhang YH, Li XJ. Antidepressant effects of curcumin in the forced swim test and olfactory bulbectomy models of depression in rats. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2005;82(1):200-6.
  3. Kulkarni S, Dhir A, Akula KK. Potentials of curcumin as an antidepressant. Scientific World Journal. 2009;9:1233-41.
  4. Li YC, Wang FM, Pan Y, Qiang LQ, Cheng G, Zhang WY, Kong LD. Antidepressant-like effects of curcumin on serotonergic receptor-coupled AC-cAMP pathway in chronic unpredictable mild stress of rats. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2009;33(3):435-49.
  5. Sanmukhani J, Anovadiya A, Tripathi CB. Evaluation of antidepressant like activity of curcumin and its combination with fluoxetine and imipramine: an acute and chronic study. Acta Pol Pharm. 2011 Sep-Oct;68(5):769-75.