Our rating
 1 smiley: This treatment is promising and may be useful. It has some evidence to support it, but more evidence is needed to be sure it works.


The rating system

  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • Exclamation MarkSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

What is it?

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.

How does it work?

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.

Is it effective?

There is some scientific evidence on curcumin for the treatment of depression. Several reviews of studies have found that curcumin supplements have been more effective than placebo treatment in adults diagnosed with depression. In most studies all participants were also taking traditional antidepressant medication. However, no benefit of taking curcumin for depression symptoms was found for people who did not have depression.

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.

Are there any disadvantages?

Curcumin may cause some side effects, such as nausea, bloating, mild diarrhea and headaches, 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. 

Where do you get it?

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.

Key references

  • Fusar-Poli L, Vozza L, Gabbiadini A, Vanella A, Concas I, Tinacci S, et al. Curcumin for depression: a meta-analysis. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2019: 1-11.
  • Wang Z, Zhang Q, Huang H, Liu Z. The efficacy and acceptability of curcumin for the treatment of depression or depressive symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2021; 282:242-51.

Last updated and reviewed: 28 August 2023