Curcumin is a compound found in plants. It is found in high levels in turmeric, and is also present in ginger. It is responsible for the bright yellow colour of turmeric and can be used as a food colouring. Curcumin can also be purchased as a herbal supplement.
Curcumin is thought to increase the levels of serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine in the brain. These are chemical messengers which are thought to be imbalanced in people who have depression. Curcumin can also influence the HPA axis, which is series of processes in the body that are involved in stress and mood regulation.
There is some scientific evidence on curcumin for the treatment of depression. Several studies have found that curcumin supplements have been more effective than placebo treatment in reducing depression symptoms. Most often, curcumin has been used by patients who were also taking traditional antidepressant medication. One study found that adding curcumin to regular antidepressant treatment might lead to quicker improvement in symptoms.
While curcumin seems to be a promising treatment, more large scale, placebo-controlled studies are needed to better understand its effectiveness, especially for people who are not also taking regular antidepressant medication.
Curcumin may cause some side effects, such as nausea, but is generally well tolerated. However, dietary supplements, including curcumin, may have negative interactions with prescribed medications or other supplements. They should always be taken under the supervision of a health care professional.
Curcumin supplements can be purchased online and from health food shops. Turmeric, a spice which contains curcumin, is available in supermarkets.
Curcumin seems to be a safe addition to antidepressants, however there is not enough good evidence at this stage to recommend it as a stand-alone treatment for depression.
Last updated and reviewed: 1 November 2019