Curcumin, found in the yellow Indian spice turmeric, has amazing health benefits, including elevating mood and combatting depressive symptoms as effectively as the prescription drug Prozac, suggests a recent study published in Phytotherapy Research.
Used as an herbal medicine and food for nearly 4,000 years, turmeric is a well-documented treatment for a wide range of disorders, inspiring researchers to dub it “the golden spice of life” in a scientific review. Indeed, over the past 25 years, more than 3,000 papers have explored the savory flavoring’s medicinal properties in lab tests, animal studies, and human trials.
A “safe and effective” herbal treatment for depression
In the new study, researchers conducted a clinical trial that included 60 patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). The patients were randomly divided into three groups, with one receiving 20 mg of fluoxetine (the generic form of Prozac) daily, another getting 500 mg of curcumin twice a day, and the third group receiving both treatments.
Neither the researchers nor the patients knew which treatment they were taking. After six weeks, the curcumin and fluoxetine groups had comparable improvements in mood, based on their score on a standard rating scale for depression that evaluates mood, feelings of guilt, suicidal ideation, insomnia, anxiety and other symptoms. While the group that received both therapies did even better, the difference in depression scores was not statistically significant.
“It is a novel and surprising application for this natural medicine,” study coauthor Dr. Ajay Goel, of the Baylor Research Institute and Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center, said in a statement. He adds curcumin was also used with “excellent results” in an animal study in which it was compared to both fluoxetine and imipramine (an older drug for depression).
The new study, the researchers added in the statement, “provides the first human clinical indication that curcumin may be used as an effective and safe treatment for patients with MDD without concurrent suicidal ideation or other psychotic disorders.” However, further research, including large clinical studies, is needed to rigorously evaluate if the golden spice is an effective therapy over the long term.
Patients taking antidepressants should not stop or change their treatment without consulting their healthcare provider. Also talk to your doctor before taking any type of supplement to make sure it’s appropriate for you. Turmeric may slow blood clotting. Taking it along with medications that also slow clotting, such as aspirin, heparin, or other blood thinners, may increase the risk of bruising and bleeding.
Curcumin and its colorful compounds are found in many foods, including mustard, curry powder, some cereals, cheeses, butter, baked goods, sauces, and many other yellow foods. It is on the FDA’s “generally recognized as safe” list as a food ingredient.
Fights Inflammation, Gum Disease and Other Disorders
Studies also show that curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. In fact, another new clinical trial suggests that a 1 percent solution of curcumin (in water) works nearly as well as for killing mouth bacteria as a standard dental mouth rinse (0.2 percent chlorhexidine gluconate or CHX) in 23 patients with chronic periodontal (gum) disease.
The patients were randomly assigned to use curcumin or CHX, while a control group used a saltwater rinse for six months. After one month, the curcumin group showed greater reduction in such problems as bleeding gums, redness, amount of dental plaque, and other signs of gum disease. By the 6-month mark, the CHX group had slightly better results on some measures, and similar ones on others.
An even newer randomized study of 45 patients with the painful and debilitating bowel disorder ulcerative colitis reported that after 8 weeks, 43.4 percent of patients treated with a curcumin preparation called NCB-02 (administered as an enema) achieved remission after eight weeks, compared to only 36.4 percent of patients given a placebo treatment.
The research was published this month in the Journal of Crohn’s and Colitis, with the study authors recommending that the golden spice be investigated as a novel therapy for ulcerative colitis.
Earlier studies and trials suggest that curcumin and turmeric may also be helpful for the following problems, according to the research review cited above:
- Healing peptic ulcers, according to a clinical trial with 45 patients. After 4 weeks of treatment with turmeric capsules (300 mg each, twice a day), the ulcers disappeared in 48 percent of cases, with ulcer-free cases increasing to 76 percent after 12 weeks. Another trial found the spice to be beneficial for people suffering from indigestion or stomach or intestinal ulcers, but not as effective as antacids.
- Fighting respiratory symptoms. In some studies, turmeric oil was helpful in relieving cough, congestion, and asthma.
- Improves wound healing in animal studies.
- May reduce joint pain and inflammation from arthritis.
- Enhances heart health by lowering blood pressure and making cholesterol less likely to clump into artery-clogging plaque, in animal studies.
- Turmeric oil repels mosquitoes.