A 2010 research paper An Overview of Curcumin in Neurological Disorders highlights how curcumin, one of the most beneficial components of the spice turmeric, may have a beneficial role to play in therapy for many neurological disorders that involve low levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinepherine. The researchers studied rats subjected to a model of chronic unpredictable stress to induce symptoms of major depression as measured via their neurotransmitter levels and behaviors.
In their study with rats dosed with curcumin from about 10 mg/kg body weight to 80 mg/kg body weight, they found that the animals subjected to chronic unpredictable stress had improved levels of serotonin and dopamine but their norepinepherine levels remained essentially unchanged.
As many antidepressants act upon serotonin and dopamine levels, this suggests that curcumin may have beneficial effects similar to those seen in from prescription drugs such as SSRI antidepressants. But so far, the “suicide inducing” side effects of SSRI medications have not been seen with curcumin. With further research. it may someday be confirmed that curcumin supplements could have a lower risk of dangerous side effects than SSRI medications while obtaining many of their benefits.
As to why curcumin helps relieve depression and increase low levels of serotonin and dopamine, the authors suggest the following four mechanisms:
- Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitory property of curcumin
- Modulating the serotonin and dopamine neurotransmission in brain
- Increasing the levels of neurotrophic factors, particularly brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
- Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties
The authors suspect the MAO inhibitor mechanisms are reversible and include both MAO-A and MAO-B actions. Many psychiatrists are aware that prescription medications which act as MAO-A inhibitors cause a potentially lethal “cheese reaction” in which tyramine ingested in cheese and some other foods can result in high levels of noradrenaline whose metabolism in blocked by the MAO-A inhibitor.
A major obstacle to using curcumin for psychiatric conditions has been its poor bioavailability. But in the last several years, there have been at least four different variants of curcumin supplements introduced that significantly increase the bioavailability of the compound and its ability to build up useful concentrations in the blood. For more information, please read High Bioavailability Curcumin Supplements from Indena, Dolcas Biotech, and Verdure Sciences.
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