Turmeric, a herb that is widely known in Asian culture and cuisine is gaining popularity in the United States. This distinctively yellow-orange powder is by no means rare; if you have ever enjoyed traditional Indian curry then you have enjoyed Turmeric. You may have also seen its extract, curcumin in the form of a pill or supplement. Curcumin makes up about 3-4% of turmeric root powder by weight.
Uses Turmeric has been employed in the treatment of cancer, diabetes, and to protect against hepatic damage and alleviate lipid peroxidation. It is also known to have an antispasmodic effect and drinking fresh turmeric juice or turmeric milk can aid muscle flexibility, reduce the pain of arthritis, and help alleviate menstrual cramps. It is also an antioxidant and scavenges for free radicals, according to David Williams, a chiropractor and alternative medicine researcher. Turmeric and bromelain are commonly taken together to increase pain relief and applying a small amount to mouth ulcers helps reduce and prevent them. The purging properties of turmeric also help in keeping the digestive system clean and healthy. (Remember that curry?) According to Dr. HK Bhakru, turmeric is an intestinal antiseptic and helps prevent gas and is beneficial in case of chronic diarrhea. Turmeric is also useful in treatment of swelling caused by sprain or strain to the muscles. It also helps reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and dementia. It improves Alzheimer’s symptoms and prevents cancer. Finally, the antimicrobial properties of turmeric help in getting rid of pimples.
It’s quite a package really.
In a recent study published in Phytotherapy, however, a new (one might say lifesaving) application has been found for turmeric. Not only has it been revealed that curcumin is effective in treating depression, its overall effect is better than some of the most popular anti-depression drugs on the market.
According to GreenMedInfo.com, The research was performed at the Department of Pharmacology, Government Medical College, Bhavnagar, Gujarat, India, and involved patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD). The objective of the trial was to compare the efficacy and safety of curcumin (extract of turmeric) with fluoxetine in 60 patients diagnosed with MDD. Success of the treatment was evaluated using the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D17). The results was the “first clinical evidence that curcumin may be used as an effective and safe modality for treatment in patients with MDD without concurrent suicidal ideation or other psychotic disorders.”
This trial was relatively small but if the results are applicable to a wider population, this really is groundbreaking news. There is a considerable body of preclinical research demonstrating that curcumin is an effective antidepressant in the animal model. However, this is not enough to sway most physicians into suggesting it for their patients as an antidepressant alternative, and quite understandably. The lack of quality human clinical evidence supporting the use of a natural substance is no small matter from a legal perspective. Unless a substance has passed the multi-million dollar phase I, II, and III clinical trials and has received approval, there is negligible legal protection for those who use it.
A phase I safety study in 2010 found that oral doses of curcumin as high as 8 grams a day were well tolerated. On the other hand, fluoxetine drugs are highly controversial due to their well-known side effects, such as suicidal ideation. So although the study found that that curcumin and fluoxetine were equivalent in effectiveness, the lack of side effects such as “concurrent suicidal ideation or other psychotic disorders,” should tip the scales in curcumin’s favor. Not only is curcumin not harmful, its powerful neuroprotective properties have been observed to protect, and in some cases restore brain function.