What is turmeric?

Turmeric is an edible root used in cooking. It’s powdered into a bright yellow spice popular in Asian cuisine.

Turmeric also has a history of medicinal use. It contains an active compound, curcumin, that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Research has found that curcumin has the potential to improve a number of health conditions — including depression. This includes mild depression and even major depressive disorder (MDD).

Read on to learn more about how turmeric works, how to add it to your routine, potential side effects, and more.

Antioxidants like curcumin scavenge free radicals that create inflammation. By reducing oxidative stress, they can also reduce inflammation.

Recent studies have made a connection between depression and chronic inflammation. It’s still not clear if inflammation causes depression or vice versa. Nevertheless, research suggests that chronic inflammation and depression exacerbate one another.

It’s thought that antioxidants like curcumin can help relieve symptoms of depression by fighting chronic inflammation.

This has led to trials to determine whether turmeric might really help depression. Many are successful and of a high quality, opening the door to further exploration.

Research on turmeric may be just as bright and hopeful as its cheery yellow color.

A 2017 review looked at all of the research on using turmeric — specifically, curcumin — to help treat depression. It found that curcumin may indeed be a safe and effective natural treatment option.

On using turmeric or curcumin on its own or with other herbs

A 2017 study found that curcumin reduced depression symptoms. It was effective on its own and in combination with another herb, saffron.

The same was found in two different 2014 studies, one published in the Journal of Affective Disorders and the other in Phytotherapy Research. In these, curcumin was found to be just as effective when used alone.

On using turmeric or curcumin alongside prescription antidepressants

A study done in 2015 revealed that curcumin could help antidepressants work better.

Research still hasn’t determined whether use in combination with antidepressants works better than use of curcumin alone.

One day, turmeric — specifically, curcumin — could be a mainstream depression treatment. Further research is needed before it can be formally recommended alongside traditional treatment options.

If you want to try it at home, talk to your doctor before use. They can discuss your individual risk for side effects and interactions.

You should not use turmeric or curcumin instead of prescribed antidepressants.

The herb should only be used under your doctor’s supervision to complement your existing treatment plan.

You likely won’t see a change in symptoms right away. Many studies suggest that turmeric must be taken correctly for at least four weeks before it has an effect.

Take it as a supplement

Turmeric supplements are available at local health and food stores or online. They’re also available in tincture or extract forms.

The form you take doesn’t matter. What matters is how much curcumin (or curcuminoids) are included in each supplement. Make sure it’s a high percentage — around 95 percent is ideal.

Avoid turmeric supplements that don’t say how much curcumin is in them. These may have more of turmeric’s other compounds in them than curcumin.

There are also supplements available with 100 percent pure extracted curcumin. Getting a pure supplement may be your best option.

Remember that supplements aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. You should only purchase products from manufacturers that you trust.

Be sure to follow any dosage or use information on the label. If you have any questions, talk to your doctor.

Add it to your meals

You can also reap some of these benefits by adding turmeric to your meals.

However, cooking with turmeric or curcumin hasn’t been studied as much as taking oral supplements. What’s more, turmeric cooking powders usually don’t label curcumin amounts.

This means that the amount of curcumin can vary from product to product, and its potential effects may be unpredictable.

If you can find a high-curcumin turmeric, one teaspoon turmeric likely has more than enough curcuminoids to be effective. Just make sure you use the spice every day for optimal benefits.

Don’t forget the piperine!

Piperine is a compound found in culinary black pepper. Studies show that piperine enhances absorption of other compounds during digestion.

Because of this, piperine can make supplements, especially herb-based ones, work faster and more effectively. It’s extracted and added to many supplements, including curcumin.

Supplements combining curcumin with piperine are one of the most research-supported options for depression. A 2013 study showed curcumin with piperine was more effective than curcumin alone.

Alternative practitioners recommend using curcumin and piperine combined for best results. This may mean taking separate piperine supplements or adding black pepper to any turmeric-enhanced meals.

About 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper (or 20 mg of piperine) should be enough. Always follow any dosage information on supplement labels.

Although turmeric and curcumin are generally safe to ingest, side effects are possible with therapeutic use. These include:

  • stomach upset
  • nausea
  • vomiting

You may be able to reduce your risk for symptoms by starting with a smaller dose and gradually working your way up to the supplement’s recommended dosage.

There’s no known maximum dose for turmeric or curcumin. It’s best to follow recommended doses, even though high amounts aren’t known to cause harm.

If you’re taking antidepressants or other medication, talk to your doctor before adding turmeric, curcumin, or piperine supplements to your routine. Any supplement runs the risk of interacting with your medication.

You should also talk to your doctor before use if you:

You should see your doctor right away if you experience any unusual or severe symptoms after you begin using turmeric or curcumin.

This is especially important if you were scaling back or replacing some medication with the herb.

You should also check in with your doctor if you don’t think the turmeric or curcumin is having any effect at all. They may be able to adjust your supplementation or recommend another therapy to help ease your symptoms.