Turmeric – Possible New, Inexpensive, Depression and Anxiety Treatment

Turmeric – Possible New, Inexpensive, Depression and Anxiety Treatment

Turmeric (curcumin) may be a new, inexpensive depression and anxiety treatment. It’s early days on this one, but it’s worth noting because it is so available and inexpensive. Here is where the research is on turmeric as a treatment for depression and anxiety.

Uses for Curcumin (Turmeric) Including for the Treatment of Bipolar Depression

Curcumin (the compound in turmeric) has been used for medical purposes before. According to Jim Phelps MD,

Ground turmeric has been used as an anti-inflammatory in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for centuries. Western clinical research has largely but not entirely supported the value of curcumin for inflammatory conditions, particularly arthritis.

And treating inflammation is one way some suggest that bipolar disorder can be treated (although this is not necessarily supported by a lot of research).

Again, according to Dr. Phelps,

Mechanisms of action of curcumin do fall in line with research on the pathways of mood disorders. It decreases levels of inflammatory cytokines . . . increases plasma brainderived neurotrophic factor levels, and decreases salivary cortisol concentrations compared with placebo.

Study on Curcumin (Turmeric) for Depression and Anxiety

Turmeric (compound curcumin) may be a treatment for depression and anxiety. If you have bipolar depression, should you try turmeric/curcumin?A study was recently done on curcumin and the treatment of depression and anxiety. It is interesting because it is a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, which is rare for non-pharmacological treatments.

In this case, 123 people with major depressive disorder were given one of the following for 12 weeks:

  • Low-dose curcumin extract (250mg twice a day)
  • High-dose curcumin extract (500mg twice a day)
  • Combined low-dose curcumin extract plus saffron (15mg twice a day)
  • Placebo

According to the study, the results were the following:

The active drug treatments (combined) were associated with significantly greater improvements in depressive symptoms compared to placebo . . . and superior improvements in [anxiety scores]. Active drug treatments also had greater efficacy in people with atypical depression compared to the remainder of patients (response rates of 65% versus 35% respectively . . .). No differences were found between the differing doses of curcumin or the curcumin/saffron combination.

(Bold mine.)

Atypical Depression and Bipolar Disorder

And, as you may know, people with bipolar disorder typically express depression in an atypical way.

According to the Mayo Clinic, atypical depression is:

  • Sleeping too much rather than too little
  • Increased appetite (leading to weight gain) rather than decreased appetite
  • Reactive depression (depression that responds to positive events)
  • Heavy, laden feeling in the extremities (different from fatigue)
  • Sensitivity to rejection or criticism in a way that affects quality of life

(If you don’t express bipolar depression this way, that’s okay, it’s just prevalent.)

What You Need to Know About Using Turmeric (Curcumin) as a Treatment

One thing to note is that when used alone curcumin is not useful as it’s not sufficiently absorbed. You must take piperine (table pepper) to increase curcumin absorption in order for it not to be a placebo.

And, particularly in the United States, supplements are not well regulated so it’s very hard, if not impossible, to really know how much curcumin you are getting in a pill. Also, most supplements do not incorporate piperine with curcumin.

Risks with Taking Curcumin (Turmeric) as a Bipolar Treatment

According to Dr. Phelps:

They can aggravate cholelithiasis. Because they have an inherent anticoagulant effect, the extracts should be discontinued before elective surgeries, and monitoring is necessary if they are used with anticoagulants.


They can lower blood glucose levels, so caution is warranted in patients with diabetes who are taking hypoglycemic agents.

This means that you should always check with your doctor before starting curcumin treatment. (Which, of course, is what you should do before taking anything, over the counter or not.)

Should You Use Turmeric (Curcumin) as a Bipolar Treatment?

The above study wasn’t on people with bipolar disorder, but, rather, those with major depression which means there is no evidence that curcumin will work in a bipolar population.

That said, with your doctor’s approval, trying curcumin for bipolar depression might be worth your time. Just make sure you use a supplement that is of excellent quality and, ideally, one that your doctor recommends.

Banner image by Simon A. EugsterOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link.


About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

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