The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 17 No. 3 • April 2014

Depressed? Having Pain?

Turmeric Root to the Rescue!

Mechanisms for Antidepressant Property of Curcumin

Complete Relief of Pain from Bursitis of the Hip Provided by Turmeric Root

We received correspondence from a fan of our turmeric root powder in capsules telling us that she and her sister have bursitis of the hip and have experienced complete relief of all pain with turmeric root powder in caps. Our thanks to this fan for the tip. Not all pain responds the same to pain relievers, but in this case, bursitis was responsive to turmeric root powder.

Meanwhile, a recent paper provides new details on the antidepressant properties of curcumin (a major component of turmeric root powder).1 The authors explore several mechanisms that may account for these effects.

Surprisingly, the researchers1 note, in some earlier studies on curcumin’s effects on pain in rodent models of depression, curcumin had similar antidepressant efficacy to fluoxetine (Prozac®) in the forced swimming test and the tail suspension test. The sorts of behavior that are considered signs of depression in these animals include decreased interest in drinking a sucrose solution and immobility when subjected to stressful conditions.

Depression Associated with Higher Levels of Pro-inflammatory Cytokines

Importantly, the researchers explain, “[t]hree recent meta-analyses have all confirmed that depression is associated with elevated levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and other inflammatory mediators.”1 Pro-inflammatory cytokines that have been reported at higher levels during depression-like episodes in animals include C-reactive protein, interleukin-1, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha. (We suggest that you try to include measurements of blood IL-6 and TNF-alpha when you have lab blood tests. Although C-reactive protein is becoming a fairly common lab test, it will still require a request to get the other pro-inflammatory cytokines measured as well. Most doctors will not have heard of IL-6 and TNF-alpha. But—see left—a 2014 paper has reported that an inflammatory index looking at the levels of serum IL-6 and sTNFR1 provides an accurate prediction of 10 year all-cause mortality.2)

Not all depressed individuals have increased inflammation, but it is an important feature of at least a sizeable subset of depressed persons. (One problem with these cytokine tests is that they are currently not standardized and the measurements determined by different tests cannot generally be directly compared with one another.) Hopefully, as interest in the clinical implications of inflammatory cytokines increases, we will see the development of standardized tests that will make it much easier to compare and interpret them. In the meantime, you can check to see where your TNF-alpha level falls in the normal range provided by the laboratory that measured the TNF-alpha (a lab using a different test may report a different normal range). If it is at the high end, you may want to consider supplementation to reduce inflammation, whereas if it is at the low end of the normal range, this is probably a good indication for your level of inflammation.)

Human studies that have reported antiinflammatory activity of curcumin were cited and described in paper #1, including a study of osteoarthritis patients, a study of patients with diabetic nephropathy (reduced TGF-beta and IL-8 with curcumin), and in type 2 diabetics, curcumin lowered TNF-alpha and IL-6.1

Increased Serotonin Induced by Curcumin

Another mechanism for curcumin’s antidepressant properties1 was its dose-dependent increase of serotonin in rats. One way it does this is to reduce the activity of the enzyme indoleamine dioxygenase (IDO), which breaks down tryptophan. As part of the body’s immune response to bacteria (lipopolysaccharide), IDO is increased which decreases the availability of tryptophan to invading bacteria.

Decreased Gut Hyperpermeability with Curcumin

Lipopolysaccharide, an inflammation-causing compound produced by many harmful bacteria, is known to increase gut permeability, which permits some of the trillions of bacteria in the gut to reach other areas of the body. (The importance of maintaining the gut barrier has been known since Elie Metchnikoff’s time, when he predicted that eating yogurt would be a way to protect the gut barrier and perhaps extend lifespan. See Metchnikoff, The Prolongation of Life, G. P. Putnam’s Sons (1908). Depression increases gut permeability and this effect can be ameliorated by curcumin.1


  1. Lopresti et al. Multiple antidepressant potential modes of action of curcumin: a review of its anti-inflammatory, monoaminergic, antioxidant, immune-modulating, and neuroprotective effects. J Psychopharmacol. 26:1512-24 (2012).
  2. Varadhan et al. Simple biologically informed inflammatory index of two serum cytokines predicts 10 year all-cause mortality in older adults. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 69(2):165-73 (2014).

Featured Product

  • Learn more about Turmeric Root benefits and implementation strategies.

Ingredients in this Article

FREE Subscription

  • You're just getting started! We have published thousands of scientific health articles. Stay updated and maintain your health.

    It's free to your e-mail inbox and you can unsubscribe at any time.
    Loading Indicator