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”).
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.
  • Anand P, Kunnumakkara AB, Newman RA, Aggarwal BB. Bioavailability of curcumin: problems and promises. Mol Pharm. 2007 Nov-Dec;4(6):807-18. Epub 2007 Nov 14. Review.
  • Antony B, Merina B, Iyer VS, Judy N, Lennertz K, Joyal S. A pilot cross-over study to evaluate human oral bioavailability of BCM-95CG (Biocurcumax), A novel bioenhanced preparation of curcumin. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2008 Jul-Aug;70(4):445-9.
  • Antony B, Merina B, Rao SB. Enhancing the absorption of curcuminoids. Spice Board of India. July 2005, 23-26.
  • Antony B, Merina B. Bioavailability of Curcumax (BCM – 095™). Little Flower Medical Research Center, Angamaly, India (Research Center of Mahatma Gandhi University). September 2006. Spice Board of India.
  • Arora V, Kuhad A, Tiwari V, Chopra K. Curcumin ameliorates reserpine-induced pain-depression dyad: behavioural, biochemical, neurochemical and molecular evidences. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011 Nov;36(10):1570-81. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.04.012. Epub 2011 May 25.
  • Goel A. Depression Study Published on BCM-95 Curcumin; Natural product equaled effectiveness of prescription drug in clinical trial. July 11, 2013. Accessed at http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/depression-study-published-on-bcm-95-curcumin-215101301.html
  • Holick KA, Lee DC, Hen R, Dulawa SC. Behavioral effects of chronic fluoxetine in BALB/cJ mice do not require adult hippocampal neurogenesis or the serotonin 1A receptor. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2008 Jan;33(2):406-17. Epub 2007 Apr 11.
  • Huang Z, Zhong XM, Li ZY, Feng CR, Pan AJ, Mao QQ. Curcumin reverses corticosterone-induced depressive-like behavior and decrease in brain BDNF levels in rats. Neurosci Lett. 2011 Apr 15;493(3):145-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2011.02.030. Epub 2011 Feb 18.
  • Hurley LL, Akinfiresoye L, Nwulia E, Kamiya A, Kulkarni AA, Tizabi Y.Antidepressant-like effects of curcumin in WKY rat model of depression is associated with an increase in hippocampal BDNF. Behav Brain Res. 2013 Feb 15;239:27-30. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2012.10.049. Epub 2012 Nov 8.
  • Kobayashi K, Ikeda Y, Haneda E, Suzuki H. Chronic fluoxetine bidirectionally modulates potentiating effects of serotonin on the hippocampal mossy fiber synaptic transmission. J Neurosci. 2008 Jun 11;28(24):6272-80.
  • Kulkarni SK, Akula KK, Deshpande J. Evaluation of antidepressant-like activity of novel water-soluble curcumin formulations and St. John's wort in behavioral paradigms of despair. Pharmacology. 2012;89(1-2):83-90. doi: 10.1159/000335660. Epub 2012 Feb 14.
  • Lin TY, Lu CW, Wang CC, Wang YC, Wang SJ. Curcumin inhibits glutamate release in nerve terminals from rat prefrontal cortex: possible relevance to its antidepressant mechanism. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Aug 15;35(7):1785-93. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2011.06.012. Epub 2011 Jun 30.
  • Lopresti AL, Maes M, Maker GL, Hood SD, Drummond PD. Curcumin for the treatment of major depression: A randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled study. J Affect Disord. 2014 Oct;167:368-75. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.06.001. Epub 2014 Jun 11. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2014.06.001
  • Mei X, Xu D, Xu S, Zheng Y, Xu S. Gastroprotective and antidepressant effects of a new zinc(II)-curcumin complex in rodent models of gastric ulcer and depression induced by stresses. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2011 Jul;99(1):66-74. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2011.04.002. Epub 2011 Apr 13.
  • Rinwa P, Kumar A, Garg S. Suppression of neuroinflammatory and apoptotic signaling cascade by curcumin alone and in combination with piperine in rat model of olfactory bulbectomy induced depression. PLoS One. 2013 Apr 17;8(4):e61052. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061052. Print 2013.
  • Sahay A, Hen R. Hippocampal neurogenesis and depression. Novartis Found Symp. 2008;289:152-60; discussion 160-4, 193-5.
  • Sanmukhani J, Satodia V, Trivedi J, Patel T, Tiwari D, Panchal B, Goel A, Tripathi CB. Efficacy and Safety of Curcumin in Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Phytother Res. 2013 Jul 6. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5025. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Santarelli L, Saxe M, Gross C, Surget A, Battaglia F, Dulawa S, Weisstaub N, Lee J, Duman R, Arancio O, Belzung C, Hen R. Requirement of hippocampal neurogenesis for the behavioral effects of antidepressants. Science. 2003 Aug 8;301(5634):805-9.
  • Turner EH, Matthews AM, Linardatos E, Tell RA, Rosenthal R. Selective Publication of Antidepressant Trials and Its Influence on Apparent Efficacy. NEJM. Volume 358:252-260 January 17, 2008 Number 3. Accessed online January 17, 2008 at http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/short/358/3/252
  • Xu Y, Ku B, Cui L, Li X, Barish PA, Foster TC, Ogle WO. Curcumin reverses impaired hippocampal neurogenesis and increases serotonin receptor 1A mRNA and brain-derived neurotrophic factor expression in chronically stressed rats. Brain Res. 2007 Aug 8;1162:9-18. Epub 2007 Jun 21.
  • Xu Y, Ku B, Tie L, Yao H, Jiang W, Ma X, Li X. Curcumin reverses the effects of chronic stress on behavior, the HPA axis, BDNF expression and phosphorylation of CREB. Brain Res. 2006 Nov 29;1122(1):56-64. Epub 2006 Oct 3.
  • 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 Sep;82(1):200-6.