Can Turmeric Help With Depression?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on September 02, 2022
3 min read

People in India and China have used the spice turmeric for centuries to treat conditions like skin diseases, infections, and stress. Now, some research has found that the bright yellow spice might also help ease symptoms of depression.

How could it work? Turmeric's health benefits mostly come from curcumin, a chemical found in its root stalk. Studies show that curcumin may ease inflammation in your immune system. And there's growing evidence that inflammation is linked to depression.

We need lots more research into whether it works for depression. But studies of curcumin in animals have found that it could:

  • Affect serotonin and dopamine, brain chemicals that control mood and behavior
  • Change parts of your brain that respond to stress
  • Protect against damage to energy-producing structures in your cells (mitochondria)

Turmeric is a plant that’s turned into a spice used in Indian, Southeast Asian, and Middle Eastern cooking. Part of the ginger family, it's grown in tropical areas around the world. It's probably best known as an ingredient in curry powder.

An average turmeric root contains anywhere from 2% to 9% curcumin. Scientists have studied whether curcumin could help ease conditions ranging from arthritis to acne. Research has found that it may:

  • Help prevent inflammation. Inflammation is your body’s healthy response to an irritant. But long-term inflammation can be harmful.
  • Have antioxidant effects. Antioxidants are substances that can ward off some types of cell damage.
  • Lower the risk of cancer. Researchers are still looking into anti-cancer effects in humans. But studies in animals show that turmeric could protect against colon, stomach, and skin cancers.

We don't yet know whether curcumin could work as well as standard depression medicines, and how it interacts with these drugs. Researchers need to do larger studies to understand curcumin's long-term effects on people with depression.

At this point, curcumin is not thought to be a good alternative to depression medication and therapy. Some studies have found that curcumin worked no better than a placebo (a fake treatment) to treat depression.

It's safe to eat turmeric in food. But to get the amount of curcumin used in most studies, you need to take a supplement.

Check with your doctor before you take a turmeric or curcumin supplement, or make any changes to your depression medication. If you get the green light, here are some tips:

  • Check the label. Your body can't absorb curcumin well. You break it down quickly and get rid of it as waste. Look for curcumin products made with phytosome technology or with a black pepper extract called piperine. These help with absorption.
  • Know your dose. 500 milligrams (mg) of turmeric twice a day is the standard dose. But you may take more or less, depending on your health. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.
  • Use quality products. For cooking, look for authentic Indian turmeric. If you’re taking a supplement, be sure it's mostly made up of active ingredients.

It may take a while to see any effects. Some studies showed an improvement in depression symptoms only after 4-6 weeks of treatment.

The risk of side effects from curcumin and turmeric is low. But there are some things to watch out for: