Turmeric root gives curry powders their characteristic yellow-orange hue.
And turmeric has long been prized in Chinese and Indian medicine as a broadly beneficial “tonic” herb.
Modern scientific research focuses on turmeric's trio of yellow-orange pigments, collectively called “curcumin”.
Lab experiments and preliminary clinical studies indicate that this synergistic trio of polyphenol compounds supports immune and brain health in powerful ways.
Curcumin exerts so-called “nutrigenomic” effects on our genes … ones that moderate inflammation and stimulate the body's own antioxidant defenses (see “Curcumin Trial Reveals Broad Benefits”).
Curcumin buyers beware
Sadly, curcumin is not well-absorbed when extracted from turmeric ... unless something is done to change that.
Some manufacturers add piperine from black pepper, while others package curcumin in fatty envelopes called liposomes (a very costly approach).
But the simplest, most cost-effective, and beneficial method is to include turmeric's own volatile oils along with the curcumin.
Research shows that turmeric's volatile oils enhance the benefits of curcumin and provide their own.
Accordingly, when we decided to offer a Curcumin in Wild Salmon Oil supplement, we picked a patented extract called BCM-95®, 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).
Last year, U.S. and Indian scientists published a clinical trial that added more evidence of curcumin's potential as a brain-health ally … see “Curry's Color Boosts Mood”.
Two recent clinical trials examined the effect of curcumin on mood, concentration, memory, and fatigue … and they detected significant benefits in all four areas. 
Iranian trial finds curcumin boosted antidepressant benefits 
Last week, we reported that fish-rich diets may enhance the effects of antidepressant drugs … see “Fish Boosts Anti-Depressant Drugs”.
And, judging by the results of a preliminary trial, it appears that curcumin may offer similar benefits.
Last August, Iranian doctors published the results of a clinical trial in which they tested the effects of supplemental curcumin in patients suffering from major depression (Panahi Y et al. 2014).
As the authors wrote, “Current medications have limited efficacy in controlling the symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD), and are associated with several adverse events on long-term use.”
They explained why they chose to test adding curcumin to therapy with antidepressant drugs:
“Curcuminoids are extremely safe and … have been shown to alleviate depressive symptoms in a variety of experimental models.”
The Iranian team recruited 111 depression patients and assigned them to one of two groups for a six-week trial:
  • Standard antidepressant drug therapy
  • Standard antidepressant drug therapy plus supplemental curcumin
The curcumin supplement contained piperine: a black pepper compound proven to improve the absorption of curcumin … see our sidebar, “Curcumin buyers beware”.
Before and after the trial, the mood health of all participants was measured using two standard tests.
At the end of the trial, the mood scores improved in both groups.
However, the mood-score improvements were significantly greater in the curcumin group.
As they concluded, “Co-administration of curcuminoids with piperine may be used as a safe and effective add-on to standard antidepressants in patients with MDD [major depressive disorder].” (Panahi Y et al. 2014)
Australian study sees curcumin improving seniors' concentration and energy
The second clinical trial comes from the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at Australia's Swinburne University of Technology (Cox KH et al. 2014).
It was led by Professor Andrew Scholey, whose team has tested other herbs believed to boost mental performance – sage, American ginseng, Panax (Chinese) ginseng, and lemon balm – with measureable successes.
Based on the success of earlier curcumin studies, they were keen to test its effect on mental acuity. 
As his co-author — PhD student Katherine Cox — said, “Curcumin has sparked widespread interest, with epidemiological studies suggesting that cultures with a diet rich in curries have better cognitive function and a lower prevalence of dementia.” (SUT 2014)
She cited evidence that the curcumin in turmeric may account for the relatively low dementia rates seen in curry-loving South Asian countries.
For example, researchers from Singapore found that people who consumed curry dishes routinely performed significantly better on mental tests, compared with those who never or rarely ate curries (Ng TP et al. 2006).
Dr. Scholey's team was aware that standard supplemental curcumin is not well-absorbed:
“One issue found in preclinical animal studies, was that pure curcumin given orally is not well absorbed, making it less powerful,” said Ms. Cox (SUT 2014).
So they used a fat-soluble curcumin supplement that – like supplements which include turmeric's own volatile oils — is absorbed much better than pure curcumin ... again, see our sidebar, “Curcumin buyers beware”.
The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial examined the effects of curcumin on cognitive function and mood in 60 healthy adults aged 60 to 85.
Scholey's team measured the effects of curcumin in three different contexts:
  • Test mental performance one or three hours after a single dose
  • Test mental performance after four weeks of daily consumption 
  • Test mental performance one or three hours after a single dose, following four weeks of daily curcumin
The results were very encouraging: participants showed significant improvements in attention one hour after taking curcumin, and this benefit persisted after four weeks of daily consumption.
And the participants reported an additional benefit after four weeks of daily curcumin … less fatigue.
As Cox said, “What really surprised us was that the chronic effect of curcumin was associated with significantly lower levels of fatigue, compared with the placebo group.” (SUT 2014)
“Fatigue in the elderly is quite important for health and psychological reasons and interventions such as curcumin … may have the potential to reduce vulnerability to depression and anxiety disorders,” she added (SUT 2014).
This was the second trial to detect anti-fatigue effects from curcumin.
Five years ago, Indian researchers found that patients who took curcumin supplements after gall bladder surgery reported reduced pain and postoperative fatigue, compared with those who took placebo pills (Agarwal KA et al. 2011).
The Swinburne University study was supported by funding from Verdure Sciences™ Pty, maker of the curcumin supplement used in the trial.
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