Many studies show that stress-induced damage to hippocampal (region of the brain) neurons may be the reason behind depression. Well Curcumin can increase neurogenesis of these regions, much in the same way that exercise, environmental enrichment and learning can. Therefore, Curcumin can reduce depression, anxiety and stress.
Besides neurogenesis, another major reason Curcumin has anti-depressive activity is the noted increase in the level of serotonin when taking it. Remember serotonin? This ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter plays a role in the regulation of mood, sleep, memory, learning, and sexual behavior. In addition, Curcumin increases the level of dopamine in the brain too!
So by enhancing serotonin, dopamine and neurogenesis in the brain, the Curcumin in Turmeric has antidepressant activity, comparable to any antidepressant on the market. In fact, when Curcumin is used to treat other disorders, they often find a decrease in their depression as well, which further demonstrates the effectiveness of this compound.
Mechanisms proposed for antidepressant activity of curcumin:
Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitory property of curcumin
Modulating the serotonin and dopamine neurotransmission in brain
Increasing the levels of neurotrophic factors, particularly brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
Antiinflammatory and antioxidant property
Turmeric – potent anti inflammatory and antioxidant agent
Inflammation leads to changes in the brain’s ability to properly regulate hormones (adrenal, thyroid, sex), and to changes in the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, as well as to changes in plasticity or the ability to regenerate brain cells.
Curcumin is anti-inflammatory, thereby helping to reduce brain inflammation, which in turn reduces the mental symptoms such as the anxiety states. I have noticed that any anti-inflammatory drugs or supplements that reduce COX-2 and/or NF-kB mediated inflammation work quite well to lower anxiety. So, as you see brain inflammation and anxiety is closely related. Propolis, Terminalia chebula and curcumin are reasonably potent inhibitors of COX-2 inflammation, and grape seed extract and curcumin will lower NF-kB mediated inflammation. In the picture below you can see how Curcumin works against NF-kappa B with consequent inhibition of inflammation and proliferation.
Watch this video, where physical therapist Manu Kalia talks about turmeric therapeutic effects on inflammation and this will get you better understanding how beneficial turmeric can be for your anxiety and a whole range of other health problems.
So if it’s so effective, why isn’t it more commonly used?
Curcumin unfortunately exhibits poor bioavailability, with difficults caused by poor absorption, rapid metabolism, and rapid systemic elimination. To improve the bioavailability of curcumin, numerous approaches have been undertaken:
use of adjuvant like piperine that interferes with hepatic glucuronidation, a way to eliminate drugs;
use of liposomal curcumin;
use of curcumin nanoparticles;
use of curcumin phospholipid complex;
use of structural analogues of curcumin, that has been reported to have a rapid absorption with a peak plasma half-life.
Studies show up to 2000% better bioavailability when curcumin is taken with piperine – black pepper extract. You can even use black pepper and turmeric in soups and other foods. But please note, that turmeric consists only of 2-6% curcuminoids.
There are also patented formulas and manufacturers claim these are even better than plain turmeric with piperine. But these options aren’t so cheap, maybe that’s why it isn’t so commonly used. Here is the list of the best researched and scientifically proven products:
Theracurmin (Japanese product; uses very small particles of curcumin, which are emulsified and water-soluble, for better absorption; still the best in the market 2016)
BCM95 Curamin (contains oils from turmeric, mixed with curcuminoids; the oils apparently enhance absorption of the curcuminoids)
Meriva (phytosomal curcumin complexed with lecithin, made by Indena)
LongVida (decent product, optimized extract, which helps penetrate the blood-brain barrier)
C3 (manufactured by Sabinsa; contains a defined ratio of three curcuminoids; uses bioperine to enhance absorption)
C3 Reduct (this is a time-release version of Tetra-Hydro-Curcumin (active form of Curcumin) with piperine, made by InnovixLabs)
Polyvinyl-pyrrolidone (curcumin paired with water soluble carriers, no products yet, still in research)
If you are horrified by the prices of products listed above, but still want to try if curcumin works for your anxiety, I recommend Turmeric Curcumin and Piperine Capsules from Powdercity, 60 caps for $9.45. Each capsule contains 500mg curcumin and 5mg piperine. They can also provide CoAs (Certificate of Analysis) of this and all of their other products, if you ask them.
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Just a warning about piperine. It also changes the pharmocodynamics of other pharmaceuticals and supplements, because it is a moderate CYP3A4 inhibitor (slows down metabolism for a large list of drugs). Do your own research and ask your doctor, if you can use piperine with your other medications.