“We have been learning that disturbances in inflammation are causative and consequential of depression,” says Dr McIntyre. “We are also learning that if we can target the inflammatory system, for some people, this may translate into antidepressant properties.” As the researchers’ findings suggest, such an approach may work especially well for people with atypical depression, a subgroup that has been found to have particularly high levels of inflammation. As reported in the August 2015 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial conducted at Tianjin Anding Hospital in China investigated the effects of supplementing antidepressants with curcumin.4 The results show that, compared to placebo, 6 weeks of curcumin supplementation significantly reduced patients’ scores on the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D17) and the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale, and it also decreased inflammatory cytokines and salivary cortisol, while increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels. “These findings indicate the potential benefits of… curcumin to reverse the development of depression and enhance the outcome of antidepressant treatments in major depressive disorder,” the authors wrote. A 2014 study that appeared in Phytotherapy Research similarly found that 6 weeks of curcumin treatment led to reduced HAM-D17 scores in patients with MDD, but in this randomized controlled trial treatment with fluoxetine–either alone or in combination with curcumin–was no more effective than curcumin alone.5
“While further research is still required, curcumin certainly seems a promising treatment for depression,” says Dr Lopresti. He is conducting additional research on the impact of curcumin on depression, as well its effects on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children. Meanwhile, additional ways to reduce inflammation should also be considered. Dr McIntyre has a trial underway investigating the potential antidepressant effects of infliximab,6 a monoclonal antibody used in the treatment of inflammatory diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, and Dr Lopresti co-authored a 2013 review7 exploring the relationship between certain lifestyle factors and MDD. “There are natural ways to reduce inflammation,” he says. “These include eating a healthy diet, engaging in moderate exercise, and getting good sleep. The addition of natural herbs and spices, particularly curcumin, may also enhance treatment outcomes.”
Tori Rodriguez, MA, LPC, is a psychotherapist and freelance writer based in Atlanta.
1. University of Maryland Medical Center. Turmeric. Retrieved December 4, 2015 from https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/turmeric.
2. Lopresti AL, Maes M, Maker GL, et al. Curcumin for the treatment of major depression: A randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled study. J Affect Dis. 2014; 167:368-375.
3. Lopresti AL, Maes M, Meddens MJ, et al. Curcumin and major depression: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial investigating the potential of peripheral biomarkers to predict treatment response and antidepressant mechanisms of change. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2015; 25(1):38-50.
4. Yu JJ, Pei LB, Zhang Y, et al. Chronic supplementation of curcumin enhances the efficacy of antidepressants in major depressive disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2015;35(4):406-410.
5. Sanmukhani J, Satodia V, Trivedi J, et al. Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Phytother Res. 2014;28(4):579-585.
6. University Health Network, Toronto. 12-Week Study Investigating the Efficacy, Safety, and Tolerability of Adjunctive Infliximab for Bipolar I/II Depression. Retrieved on December 4, 2015 from https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02363738?term=infliximab+mcintyre&rank=1.
7. Lopresti AL, Hood SD, Drummond PD. A review of lifestyle factors that contribute to important pathways associated with major depression: diet, sleep and exercise. J Affect Dis. 2013;148(1):12-27.