Turmeric and Mental Health

Extract from the root of Curcuma longa commonly known as turmeric is rich in curcumin. Approximately 10% of the persons visiting physicians in the United States are depressed. Pharmaceutical drugs are widely dispensed to treat depression but all have disturbing side effects. Safe alternatives will probably be readily accepted by the US public.

Depression can be found in individuals who are:

  • Lacking the essential omega 3 fatty acids
  • Using synthetic transfats in their diets (soy, corn, saffola, canola, sunflower seed oils)
  • Vitamin D deficient This can even be found in persons who cover themselves with sunscreens and wear sunglasses when out in the sun. The RDA for Vitamin D of 400 I.U. daily is set far below the correct requirement for maintaining health of 1200 I.U. Daily As a consequence 60% to 70% of US citizens are Vitamin D deficient.
  • Depression and every psychiatric illness in the psychiatric nomenclature can be found in persons with undiagnosed infections[1] (toxoplasmosis, Lyme Disease (borrelia burgdorfi), mycoplasma, fungi, yeast, parasites).

All the above conditions should be rectified before starting any therapy for depression as many depressed patients will have a favorable response to correction of these health problems.

How Safe Are Widely Prescribed Pharmaceutical Drugs Used To Treat Depression?

The two most widely used US pharmaceutical types of antidepressants are the older tricyclics and the newer more potent SSRIs. Among the tricyclic antidepressant drugs are amitryptiline (Elavil), Etrafon, Limbitrol, desipramine Norpramin, doxepin Sinequan, trimipramin Surmontil, protriptyline Vivactil). Significant side effects that can be seen with tricyclic antidepressants include heart attack, stroke, abnormal electrocardiograms, low blood pressure, coma, seizures, hallucinations, tremors, tardive dyskinesia (often permanent movement disorder involving the extremities), neuritis, anxiety, insomnia, fluid retention, paralytic ileus, inability to empty the bladder, constipation, rash, hives, bone marrow depression, abnormal liver function, vomiting, breast enlargement in males and females, impotence and weight gain. The older tricyclic antidepressants have less SSRI effect than the newer SSRI drugs.

The currently most popular category of antidepressants are the SSRI drugs (selective, serotonin reuptake inhibitors) (fluoxetine Prozac, sertaline Zoloft, paroxetine Paxil, citalopram hydrobromide Celexa.). A serious under appreciated problem from SSRI drugs is gastrointestinal bleeding in the elderly. Antidepressant drugs act by causing more serotonin to be available to the brain where it promotes calmness, peace and contentment. The greater the inhibition of serotonin uptake the greater the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. Taking SSRI drugs diminishes the amount of serotonin that is available to platelets to cause blood to clot. Generally the platelets use the excess serotonin absorbed during reuptake. When this process is blocked by SSRIs there is less serotonin available for platelets and formation of clots is less effective.

In a recent study published in the British Medical Journal 317,824 Canadians in Ontario over the age of 65 were followed. During the study 974 of these persons developed upper gastrointestinal bleeding. 41% of the bleeding patients had been taking the high inhibition SSRIs (Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac). The risk of bleeding jumped by 9% in persons using medium inhibiting SSRIs (imipramine Tofranil and amitriptyline Elavil) when compared to those on lower inhibiting drugs (desipramine Norpramine and doxepin Sinequan). Patients who had previously experienced upper g.i. bleeding were 5 times more likely to bleed again and persons in their 80s had a 3 fold greater chance to bleed than persons who were between 65 and 70. The use of anticoagulants, cortisone, or NSAID drugs at least doubled the risk of bleeding.

SSRIs can cause nausea, headache, dry mouth, anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea, sexual dysfunction and tremor. The worst side effect is psychotic episodes called serotonin syndrome. Persons on SSRIs over age 65 might want to consider switching to a less dangerous non pharmaceutical depression therapy. SAMe is quite effective but very expensive. B complex with supplemental vitamin C and phenylalanine, omega 3 fatty acids (fish oil or flax oil), or St. John’s Wort (SJW) all can clear depressions. Drug interactions can be seen with SJW which must not be taken with SSRIs as serotonin syndrome may appear. Taken alone SJW is remarkably safe. Few US citizens realize that the mass murderers who committed the Columbine High School, Red Lake and other fatal school violence were nearly universally taking Prozac or similar SSRI antidepressants. Eli Lilly Company knew that Prozac could cause users to commit violent acts against self (suicide) or against others (mass murders) but this information had been carefully hidden as awareness of this information would have certainly hurt the sales of this drug and other similar SSRI pharmaceuticals.

What Is Curcumin?

Turmeric (curcumin) has long been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory, to treat digestive disorders and liver problems and for the treatment of skin diseases and wound healing. Curcumin stimulates the production of bile and facilitates emptying of the gall bladder. In animals curcumin protects the liver, has anti-tumor action, reduces inflammation and fights some infections. There are some specialized application coming to market. Avea is an extract from the root of Curcuma longa commonly know as turmeric. Nutramedix has a proprietary formulation of curcumin that is more effective than conventional curcumin because of special extraction and enhancement techniques.

The primary uses of Avea are as an antidepressant, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Curcumin has found wide acceptance as a valuable therapy to suppress inflammation in persons found to have elevated CRP values and elevated sedimentation rates Statistical analysis of large populations has revealed that persons with elevated sed rates and CRP values are at greater risk for heart attacks and strokes than persons with normal CRPs and sed rates. Bringing CRP and sed rate values back to normal in these persons is believed to stop arteriosclerotic injury to arteries. Presumably inflammatory changes in the inner membranes of the arteries (endothelium0 are being healed by curcumin.

A study published in the June 2005 issue of the European Journal of Pharmacology titled The effects of curcumin on depressive-like behaviors in mice looked at two animal models of depression. Neurochemical assays showed that curcumin produced a marked increase in serotonin and noradrenalin levels in the frontal cortex and hippocampus in the mice. Dopamine levels were increased in the frontal cortex and striatum regions. Monoamine oxidase activity was inhibited in the mouse brain. The German Commission E reports that curcumin has no known contraindications, no known side effects and no known interactions with other drugs. In May 2005 toxicology studies were completed on Nutramedix Avea at the University of Guayaquil, Ecuador. No toxic effects were seen even when the animals were given doses 160,000 times the equivalent human dose.

Patients suffering from depression report relief from depression within a few hours to a few days after starting Avea. A 38 year old woman had been seriously depressed for more than 10 years despite therapy with several different pharmaceutical drugs. When started on her first dose of Avea she felt less depressed after 30 minutes. The depression was gone in 24 hours but the therapy was continued. The dosage of Avea is 10 to 12 drops three or four times daily. Patients who respond rapidly to Avea should remain on this therapy for one to two months to allow the body to reset neurochemical balances in the brain. Patients who have been taking SSRI drugs should slowly taper off SSRI therapy over many weeks if they wish to terminate SSRI therapy.


1. Strick, Frank Townsend letter for Doctors & Patients April 2004 pg. 123-125

Author: Dr. James Howenstine, MD