Monday 29 December 2014

The Spice That Fights Depression

The kitchen cure that works as well as antidepressants

By Jessica Chia

In feel-good news (literally), a completely natural pill could soon join the ranks of depression prescriptions. Curcumin, an active compound derived from the spice turmeric, was put to the test against a traditional antidepressant, fluoxetine in a study published in Phytotherapy Research. A 1000 mg daily dose of curcumin was just 2-5% less effective than the pharmaceutical drug, and, most importantly, showed no unexpected side effects. 

Study author Ajay Goel, PhD, director of epigenetics and cancer prevention at Baylor University Medical Center, says synthetic options work well when taken as a one-hit fix, but that side effects, toxicity, and tolerance become concerns when the drugs are taken for chronic symptoms. Although curcumin has shown promise as an alternative to antidepressants for years, this is the first time researchers have been able to show the compound at work in humans, and its performance is promising. 

“From a clinical standpoint, a 2% lower efficacy makes no difference,” says Dr. Goel. “Curcumin has been proven safe, even at high doses.”

Researchers are still at work trying to pinpoint exactly how curcumin balances depressive symptoms, but they have a few leads. Curcumin is a natural inhibitor of monoamine oxidase, an enzyme that at high levels, is linked to depression, and it also blocks the release of substances known as cytokines, which can throw off the delicate balance of your body’s stress reactions. 

Although doctors won’t be prescribing the compound to patients soon, anyone can reap the health benefits of curcumin capsules, which are available at most health food stores  “It’s a very strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound, and is great as an everyday health supplement,” says Dr. Goel. “People who do not have depressive symptoms can make this spice a part of their daily diet now.” 

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