When it comes to pharmaceutical prescriptions, synthetic anti-depressants top the list.
And a class of drugs called serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRRIs) – such as Prozac – are the most frequently prescribed anti-depressants.
There’s little doubt that some lives have been saved or greatly improved by SSRIs … at least in the short term.
Unfortunately, Prozac and other SRRIs often cause adverse side effects, while the clinical record suggests that in most cases they don’t perform much better than placebo pills (see “Prozac-Type Drugs Proven No Better than Placebo”).
For more on this topic, see “Prozac & Co. May Not Stem Suicide”, “Bad News on Prozac & Co.; Good Mood News on Fish”, “Major Heart and Mood Drugs Take Huge Credibility Hits”, “Women’s Mood-Control System May Differ from Men’s”, and “Bogus Headlines Distort Omega-3 Depression Study”.
So the search for safer, more effective depression treatments must continue.
Last year, a U.S.-India scientific team published the surprising and encouraging results of a small, “pilot” clinical test.
That preliminary trial was designed to compare a highly absorbable curcumin extract called BCM-95® to the prescription anti-depressant fluoxetine … the generic form of Prozac® (Sanmukhani J et al. 2013).
Judging by its results, this special curcumin extract beats Prozac®, without causing any of that drug’s adverse effects (see “Curry’s Color Boosts Mood”).
The results of a follow-up trial support the idea that curcumin may help ease depression symptoms.
Not all curcumin
is created equal
Curcumin is not well-absorbed when extracted from turmeric ... unless it is accompanied by turmeric’s own volatile oils.
Research shows that turmeric’s volatile oils enhance the benefits of curcumin and provide their own ... yet most curcumin supplements have none, making them virtually useless.
Accordingly, when Vital Choice decided to offer curcumin supplements, we employed the patented BCM-95® extract, which includes the full spectrum of turmeric volatile oils.
Clinical studies show that BCM-95 curcumin is absorbed six to seven times better than the curcumin in conventional 95%-curcumin dietary supplements (Antony B et al. 2012).
BCM-95® has been tested in 13 published studies, including 10 human clinical trials, with uniformly positive results for safety and superior absorption.
Our curcumin supplement delivers BCM-95 curcumin in wild salmon oil, to further aid absorption, and to provide the complementary brain-health benefits associated with omega-3 fatty acids.
(Note: There are other highly absorbed curcumin supplements, which employ complex approaches such as delivery of curcumin via liposomes ... but they cost far more per milligram of curcumin.)
Before we explore the design and outcomes of the new trial, let’s take a closer look at curcumin.
What is curcumin?
Turmeric root provides the bright yellow-orange color of curry powder, and has long been prized in South Asian and East Asian medicine.
The term “curcumin” refers to the trio of potent, polyphenol-type antioxidants that give turmeric – a botanical cousin of ginger – its characteristic color.
Curcumin exerts potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and has been the subject of thousands of test tube, animal, and human studies.
Together, these studies indicate that curcumin supports immune-system and brain health in unique and powerful ways.
However, curcumin is not well-absorbed when taken alone (see our sidebar, “Not all curcumin is created equal”).
Now, the positive outcomes of a second pilot study suggests that it’s past time for the NIH and foundations to fund larger, longer clinical trials testing curcumin against depression and anxiety.
Curcumin beat placebo for depression …
... and targeted the “atypical” kind
The just-published pilot trial was conducted by researchers from Australia’s Murdoch University and Deakin University and Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University.
They recruited 56 people diagnosed with major depression for a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial lasting eight weeks (Lopresti AL et al. 2014).
At the beginning and end of the two-month trial, the scientists administered a standard questionnaire designed to measure each patient’s own perception of their mood health.
The patients were divided into two groups:
Placebo capsules twice daily
BCM-95 curcumin capsules (500 mg) twice daily
Each week, the participants were asked to rate the severity and frequency of specific symptoms over the past seven days.
By week four, and continuing through week eight, the BCM-95® curcumin was significantly more effective than the placebo pills in reducing the participants’ self-reported depression and anxiety symptoms.
The trial results were statistically significant in every measure of the self-survey except one, in which there was a positive trend toward significance.
Importantly, BCM-95® curcumin had even greater anti-depression and anti-anxiety effects in people with “atypical” depression.
Compared with standard depression, atypical depression does not respond as well to treatment with SSRIs like Prozac, or other synthetic anti-depressants.
As lead author Dr. Adrian Lopresti told NutraIngredients, “There is now increasing support for the antidepressant effects of curcumin, with a previous study demonstrating BCM-95 curcumin to be as effective as a pharmaceutical antidepressant [fluoxetine, the generic form of Prozac] for the treatment of depression.”
How might curcumin ease depression?
Both omega-3s and SSRI drugs foster the growth of cells in the brain’s hippocampus region, and connections between hippocampus brain cells … an effect associated with reduced depression risk and symptom severity.
In mouse studies, omega-3s and fluoxetine (Prozac) both restore brain cells’ ability to take on new roles and form new connections, which eases the symptoms of depression (Sahay A, Hen R 2008; Venna VR et al. 2009).
It’s possible that curcumin – which has been linked to reduced risk or severity of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia – does similar things.
And it seems significant that atypical depression is associated with higher levels of inflammation in the brain, because curcumin has strong, well-documented anti-inflammatory effects.
Of course, it will take more and larger clinical trials to prove the long-term efficacy of curcumin, and determine the optimal treatment doses and durations for each specific mood condition.
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