Q: I have read about depression being treated with natural anti-inflammatory agents. Is there a basis for this?
A: Depression has been linked with certain inflammatory processes in the brain. Studies in animal models show that inflammation induces symptoms of depression, in part by altering the activity of enzymes responsible for neurotransmitter metabolism.
For instance, inflammation has been shown to increase the activity of the tryptophan-degrading enzyme, indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase, leading to an accumulation of metabolites that influence glutamatergic signalling and the development of depressive behaviour.
An intriguing new agent that has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve depressive symptoms is curcumin. Although curcumin is well known for its anti-inflammatory effects with respect to arthritis, pain, and even cancer, its role in mental health is only now being unravelled.
A 2015 meta-analysis based on six trials demonstrated curcumin’s overall effectiveness in reducing depressive symptoms in patients with major depression. One study investigated the supplementation of 2,000 mg curcumin daily for six weeks alongside antidepressant therapy in 108 patients; researchers found that not only was there a significant reduction in depressive symptoms, but there were improvements in brain chemistry parameters as well.
Curcumin was associated with a decrease in inflammatory cytokines including interleukin 1β and tumour necrosis factor α, an increase in plasma brain-derived neurotrophic factor (important for learning and memory), and a decrease in salivary cortisol, compared with placebo.
Another study suggested that curcumin was roughly equivalent to the antidepressant fluoxetine (known as Prozac) with respect to the number of patients categorized as “responders”: between 60 and 65 percent. Other trials have found similar results.
Individuals suffering from depression should consult a licensed naturopathic doctor to determine what treatment might be most appropriate for them.