Depression is not just “feeling blue,” but rather a significant mental health condition that can affect one’s whole life. The CDC estimates that one in 10 American adults is depressed. Depression goes hand-in-hand with poor outcomes in chronic health conditions like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity, in addition to the more obvious negatives social and behavioral effects.
For this reason, antidepressants have become one of the most widely prescribed classes of drugs in the US over the last 20 years. The most common of these are the SSRIs, such as Prozac (fluoxetine). While these medications can help people to live more normal and productive lives, they do come with significant side effects, such as sleep disturbances, loss of libido, weight gain, and even an increase in suicidal ideation.
There is good research about natural alternatives for mild to moderate depression, such as aerobic exercise and St. John’s wort. Exciting new research out of India has highlighted a safe alternative for major depression: curcumin. Curcumin is the active compound in the herb turmeric. This was a relatively small study, involving 60 patients with major depressive disorder. They were divided into three groups: one group received fluoxetine, 20 mg daily; the second group received curcumin, 1000 mg daily; the third group received a combination of the two. Outcomes were measured using the Hamilton Depression rating scale. There was no statistical difference in the response rate among the three groups, and at the end of six weeks, the change in Hamilton score was comparable in all three groups.
This is big news. Depression is a serious health condition, but the side effects of SSRIs are further complicated by the difficulty that patients have in coming off these medications. On the contrary, the “side effects” of curcumin include:
- protection against neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s,
- enhanced gastrointestinal health,
- protection of the liver against toxins,
- anti-inflammatory effects from muscles and joints,
- and more.
One thing to keep in mind about curcumin, however, is that most standardized extracts are poorly absorbed from the intestinal tract. It is best to use curcumin that is complexed with phosphatidylcholine (such as Curamin [BCM-95–the type used in this study] or Meriva), or used in conjunction with black pepper (piperine).
A last note of caution: if you are currently taking antidepressant medications, do not discontinue them abruptly. Consult with your prescribing physician about weaning down gradually on the dosage, to avoid withdrawal effects. It is perfectly safe, however, to start taking curcumin while still on the pharmaceutical antidepressant.