Curcumin just as effective antidepressant as Prozac, study concludes
People suffering from depression who take 1000 mg a day of a curcumin-rich extract of Curcuma longa react just as well as they do to a standard dose of 20 mg fluoxetine, the active ingredient in Prozac. Pharmacologists at Government Medical College Bhavnagar in India have written about this in Phytotherapy Research. While we agree that curcumin is a spectacularly interesting substance, we have reservations about this study.
Traditional healers in Asia have been using curcumin, the most important bioactive ingredient in turmeric, for centuries. Curcumin is a prominent ingredient in traditional Chinese herbal remedies such as Xiaoyao-san and Jieyu-wan.
Animal studies, in which researchers simulate depression by exercising animals to the point of exhaustion, have indicated that these remedies may work. They show that curcumin inhibits the enzyme monoamine oxidase in the brain. Monoamine oxidase neutralises neurotransmitters, and administration of curcumin therefore boosts the concentration of serotonin, dopamine and noradrenalin in the brain. [Eur J Pharmacol. 2005 Jul 25;518(1):40-6.]
People suffering from depression not only have reduced concentrations of serotonin and dopamine; their hippocampus also shrinks. The hippocampus is an organ in the brain that plays an important role in the storage and retrieval of information. If the hippocampus is not working so well we store information in a way that it acquires negative connotations and we retrieve it in a negatively coloured way too. Anti-depressants work by enlarging the hippocampus.
Curcumin has the same effect, according to animal studies. In 2007 researchers at the University of Florida published the results of an animal study in which doses of 10 and 20 mg curcumin per kg per day resulted in hippocampus growth by boosting the synthesis of the neural growth hormone BDNF. [Brain Res. 2007 Aug 8;1162:9-18.] Chinese researchers discovered that the increase in BDNF synthesis is the result of the enzyme extracellular signal-related kinase [ERK] being activated in brain cells. [Behav Brain Res. 2012 Nov 1;235(1):67-72.]
Whether curcumin is of help to people suffering from depression had never been investigated however. That’s why the Indian researchers performed an experiment with sixty people suffering from serious depression.
The researchers divided their subjects into three groups. One group was given 20 mg fluoxetine every day for six weeks; the second group took one capsule containing 500 mg Curcuma longa extract twice a day, at breakfast and the evening meal; the third group took both substances.
The extract used was BCM-95, produced by Arjuna Natural Extracts. This consists of almost ninety percent curcuminoids, including curcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin and demethoxycurcumin.
The researchers scored their subjects every two weeks by getting them to fill in a questionnaire based on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale. A score of 0-7 classifies a person as normal. A score of 8-13 indicates mild depression, a score of 19-22 severe depression, and a score of 23 or higher very severe depression.
All treatments worked equally well as the figure above shows. The results actually seem too good to be true. Anti-depressants usually require a few weeks for effects to start showing, and if they work they tend only to slightly reduce feelings of depression. Anti-depressants enable patients to start functioning again so that they can embark on recovery. To actually cure severe depression in scores of people within six weeks, as seems to be the case in the figure above, is virtually impossible.
Although the research was not funded by the supplements industry but by the government, we have reservations about this study.
“Curcumin may be an effective and safe agent when used as a modality of treatment in patients of major depressive disorder without concurrent suicidal ideation or other psychotic disorders”, the researchers conclude.
“In addition, given the efficacy of curcumin treatment by itself, this study highlights the need for future large-scale clinical trials evaluating the use of this safe and natural dietary botanical as a possible mono-therapy in patients with depressive disorders.”
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