Depression and anxiety are on the rise. In the UK we experience them ten times as often as in 1945.
Antidepressants like Prozac are among the most widely used medications. Where is seems easy to solve the problem by popping a pill, quite a lot of people don’t really feel better after six months. And it can be really challenging to come off them. I’ve been there myself: it took me four years! This is one of the reasons why there are many who don’t want to take antidepressants.
Prozac or turmeric?
Interestingly, a recent study called ‘Efficacy and Safety of Curcumin in Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial‘ researched the claim that the spice turmeric would work as an antidepressant.
In this study, 3 groups of 20 participants with major depression according to a commonly used scale, received either Prozac, Prozac + 1g of oil-based curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, or just curcumin alone for 6 weeks. The combination group had the best results (77.8%) followed by the Prozac (64.7%) and the curcumin (62.5%). But these differences were not statistically significant. Are you getting that? The curcumin was just as effective as Prozac! And the authors emphasized curcumin’s high degree of safety up to dosages of 12g a day.
We have been taught that depression is a chemical imbalance. It’s supposed to be the result of a deficiency in chemicals called neurotransmitters, like serotonin and norepinephrine. But most of the theories about neurotransmitter deficiencies as the cause of depression have never been proven. What we dó know is that study after study is showing us that inflammation is an underlying cause of so many of the medical conditions we are experiencing, and that there really is no separation between the immune and nervous systems.
Turmeric is a root, actually more properly called a rhizome. It looks a bit like its cousin, ginger root. That is, until you cut it open and you see the bright yellow inside! One of the benefits of turmeric is that it is strongly anti-inflammatory. And turmeric is one of the champions: it both prevents inflammation and fights it once inflammation takes hold.
Other ways in which curcumin can affect depression are that it reduces oxidative stress – the damage caused by free radicals – and it calms down the adrenal stress response system.
Try it out
Curcumin is easy to get and absorbs relatively well. I use it in my practice in a form called Meriva, but you can use any good quality curcumin extract. I typically start with 500 mg twice a day. It is safe to use while you are on an antidepressant medication, so it is something you can use if you are trying to work with your doctor to wean yourself off of an antidepressant. You can also use a couple of teaspoons of turmeric powder in your cooking or in your smoothies. For better absorption add some ground black pepper. Or drink some ginger turmeric milk before bed!