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. It 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. One study found that curcumin was similarly effective to an antidepressant (fluoxetine) in reducing depression symptoms. Another study found that adding curcumin to regular antidepressant treatment led to quicker improvement in symptoms, but overall improvement was not increased by the curcumin. A third study found that curcumin was slightly more effective than placebo at reducing depression, but only after 4-8 weeks of treatment. Some people in this study were also taking antidepressants.
More large scale, placebo-controlled studies are needed to understand the effectiveness of curcumin.
Curcumin may cause some side effects, such as nausea, but is generally well tolerated. 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 treatment for depression.
Last updated and reviewed: 1 December 2016