Curcumin and happiness

Sherlock sent me another study published last month in “Psychopharmacology” and titled Antidepressant activity of curcumin: involvement of serotonin and dopamine system. See abstract: The study begins with the familiar rundown of the various healing effects of curcumin (antimicrobial, hypoglycaemic, antioxidant, anti-arthritic etc.). It also mentions curcumin’s rapid metabolism and poor bioavailability, about which I have written quite a bit. This is followed by the detailed description of this new (to me) effect of curcumin.


The researchers cite a study (abstract:, published in 2005, in which the Chronic administration of curcumin has been reported to exert antidepressant-like action in olfactory bulbectomy model of depression in rats. I admit that I had to look up “olfactory bulbectomy.” I almost wish I hadn’t! Tender-hearted readers, please skip the next paragraph. All the others may read on.


This procedure removes the olfactory bulbs in rats. In other words, these animals are deprived of their sense of smell. Surprise surprise, this leads to behavioural abnormalities such as hyperactivity, which can be resolved by administering antidepressants.


Some of those same 2005 researchers continued to do research on this topic, publishing another study three years later (see:, but the exact mechanism of its antidepressant activity still remains to be explored. The antidepressant activity of curcumin, i.e. That is what this more recent study sets out to do.


Skip, skip, skip through the unintelligible (to me) parts of the study…and also, ugh, through the description of what tasks the mice are forced to perform…the mice are then killed so that the curcumin levels in their brains can be measured, oh dear, this part is a bit gory…skip, skip, skip! If anyone would like to read the whole thing, though, just let me know. I would be happy to forward the study upon request.


I did gather the following: when taken together, curcumin and piperine (=black pepper extract) increased the levels of curcumin in the brain, as opposed to curcumin by itself. That makes sense.


The study then goes through a detailed list of which antidepressant drugs were administered to the mice…when, how much, etc. This part was also not easy to follow, since I don’t know any of these drugs by name and have no time to look up what they are. More skipping.


In the Discussion part we get to the essence of the study: Our results demonstrated a consistent antidepressant-like activity of curcumin in two classical models of depression in mice, namely the forced swim and reserpine-induced immobility models. The researchers found that the effect of antidepressant drugs was stronger when administered to the mice together with curcumin. After reading this, I thought that this synergistic effect might be important in the future treatment of depression.


Another finding: The neurochemical analysis revealed that curcumin (20–80 mg/kg, i.p.) dose dependently increased the serotonin (5-HT) levels. It also increased the levels of dopamine but the effect was observed only at higher doses. Further on, we read that The view that 5-HT has multiple functional roles in depression is supported by the clinical and experimental evidences suggesting that the neurotransmitter (serotonin) is involved in the regulation of mood, sleep, memory, learning, and sexual behavior, all of which are deranged to varying extents in patients with severe mental depression.


So curcumin increases the levels of serotonin, and that is part of its antidepressant activity. Another part concerns its effect on dopamine, a neurotransmitter that affects important brain processes controlling movement and emotional responses (etc.). I read that dopamine has become an important target of antidepressant drugs. The researchers found that these particular drugs are potentiated by curcumin. And, at higher doses, curcumin by itself also significantly increased the brain dopamine levels. Good stuff!


The following quote is for the more scientifically-minded: Based on the present observations, curcumin, at low doses, increased brain serotonin levels via inhibiting its metabolism (MAO-A enzyme inhibition) without significantly affecting the levels of norepinephrine. At high doses, it inhibited the metabolism of dopamine (MAO-B enzyme inhibition) which in turn resulted in the increase in central dopamine levels. Both these activities of curcumin, i.e., by enhancing the availability of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, are responsible for its antidepressant activity.


Brief summary: curcumin can enhance the levels of serotonin AND dopamine in the brain, thereby reducing depression.


The poor absorption of curcumin is mentioned again toward the end of the study. The researchers found that curcumin absorption was enhanced when piperine was added. The study thus concludes as follows: the coadministration of curcumin and piperine may provide a useful natural adjuvant in the antidepressant therapy.


Perhaps my daily intake of eight grams of curcumin is one of the reasons that I am so bloody positive most of the time. I mean, I have always been an upbeat, glass-half-full kind of gal, but maybe my intake of curcumin in the past two and a half years has increased my “happiness” level.


In any event, it’s always interesting to discover another unknown (to me!) effect of curcumin. And as far as this particular one goes, I am not complaining! Smiley face


  1. Do you know if there are any studies/info about curcumin usage in post-transplant MM patients?

    Given the possibility of an anti-depressant side effect, I’m inclined to take the Chicken Soup philosophy. “It may not help, but it couldn’t hurt…”

  2. LaCootina – my 49 year old husband had a stem cell transplant in August/08 – I started him on curcumin & resveratrol and I consulted DR.Aggarwal – he said go ahead. I am so encouraged by the studies and the info I have read on this page & others , my husband (who is a bit of a Nay-sayer) is taking everything I am handing him because of my excitement – IT HAS TO WORK!!!
    Alll the best – Shannon

  3. Recent work on stroke victims dissolved curcumin in corn oil and injected into animals – does this overcome the poor bioavailability of curcumin when taken by mouth, do you think?
    I know Margaret is considering translingual, but what about transdermal when dissolved in alcohol?

  4. I’ve had MM for 4 years, two stem cell transplants, and now on maintenance drug Revlimid due to increased IGA numbers. Since they are still increasing and my oncologist wants to add Dex to the Revlimid, I asked for permission to take Curcumin instead if Dex for at least a month. Will I notice a decrease in IGA quickly, like 4 weeks? I’m willing to take it forever since it seems to help many other health issues. And I do want to stay away from adding toxins to my body.

  5. When I first tried curcumin (Jan 2006), I waited 8 weeks before re-doing my blood tests, Karen. You MIGHT see results sooner than that…I doubt it, though. It takes 4 weeks just to work up to 8 grams.

    I wanted to add a few comments. Curcumin, like anything else (from aspirin to chemo drugs), won’t work for everybody or won’t work in the exact same way. And the unfortunate side of this particular coin is that until you try it, there is no way of knowing if it will work for you.

    I know quite a few myeloma folks who are stable and happy on curcumin…but also a few others who have had no response from it. I met a woman on one of the MM patient lists who remained stable on resveratrol but not on curcumin. So there you go: we are all different, with different DNA etc. I WISH curcumin could stop myeloma (and other types of cancer) in its tracks for everyone AND forever…but we just don’t know WHO it is going to work for and also for HOW LONG.

    I don’t mean to sound discouraging, oh no, not at all!…I very strongly believe in curcumin, and there is a very solid scientific base supporting its various anticancer and anti-MM activities.

    But it seems that curcumin–the way we take it now (in its capsule or powder form) for lack of a better way–is just not strong enough for some of us. If only we could inject it directly into each MM cell! In fact, I just read about the development of an injectable form…that would be fabulous…inject it right into the bloodstream where we want it to go. Fingers crossed!

    Thing is, though, curcumin can’t hurt you. So I always say, why not give it a try, if there are no medical counter-indications and if your doctor agrees? Just be careful to take it slowly, i.e. don’t take the whole eight grams immediately the first week or you might find yourself spending a lot of time in the smallest room in the house 😉 . Hence, I recommend that you follow my Protocol, which was given to me by Prof. Aggarwal in 2006.

    Another thing that you can do is use turmeric in your cooking, as I do and as has been suggested by a few blog readers (Nicki, e.g.). I sprinkle it over all sorts of foods, from frittatas to bean dishes. It makes your food so colourful! Ok, that’s it for now.

    Please let me know what your results are. Thanks!
    Margaret 🙂

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