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A plant extract with exceptional stress buffering properties

4 May 2023

Curcumin administration negated stress-induced depressive-like behaviour to such an extent

Curcumin is a potent caloric restriction mimetic that has been used in India and China to manage stress, anxiety and depression for more than 2 000 years. It is the active ingredient in the spice we know as turmeric. The use of curcumin as a health-promoting supplement has exploded in recent years.

General health benefits

Not only does curcumin offer a strong direct and indirect defence against chronic stress, it also offers protection from several of the more common health ailments that are becoming more prevalent in industrialised nations. According to an article published in the Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical

Sciences, curcumin may provide protection against many cancers, as well as autoimmune, cardiovascular and neurological diseases, in addition to protecting key organ systems from toxicity.

Curcumin protects against stress-induced depression and declines in (brain derived neurotrophic factor) BDNF

Curcumin has the ability to negate many of the negative effects of chronic stress, particularly stabilising BDNF levels in the brain. In 2014, researchers at the Shandong University School of Medicine in China published one of the first in vivo studies on the effects of curcumin on stress, altered behaviour and the structural integrity of the brain. The six-week animal study showed that in a simulated stress model, BDNF levels declined by more than 40%. The decline in BDNF was particularly apparent in the brain’s fear modulator, the amygdala. As mentioned previously, the long-term impact of lowered BDNF would certainly predispose the brain to a significant decline in structural integrity and functional capabilities. Remarkably, the study showed that the group given curcumin prior to and during the stress simulations had almost no decline in circulating BDNF. According to the authors, the results suggest that long-term administration of curcumin may offer the brain complete protection from the adverse effects of chronic stress. Additionally, curcumin administration negated stress-induced depressive-like behaviour to such an extent that it paralleled common antidepressant medications, without the side effects or danger of dependency. According to the researchers:

Given these results, pre-treatment with curcumin has a potential function as a novel antidepressant agent for the amelioration of depression

Not only may curcumin provide protection for the brain during periods of chronic stress, it has also been shown to neutralise some of the adverse effects of the stress hormones themselves. In 2011, the journal Neuroscience Letters published a study showing that administration of synthetic stress hormones (corticosteroids) for a period of three weeks resulted in depression and lowered BDNF levels in the hippocampus and frontal cortex. Yet again, when curcumin was administered under these biologically hostile conditions (copious amounts of cortisone), BDNF levels were stabilised and depression was averted, despite ongoing exposure. Supporting these studies, recent evidence suggests that curcumin may even modulate the entire stress response. The evidence for this comes from a Chinese study on rats that were continuously exposed to stress simulations for four weeks. The researchers found that by administering curcumin during the stressful period, the rats were able to moderate their stress responses to the same extent that the antidepressant Prozac would, reducing the incidence of hyper-emotional states and irrationality without any of the potential side effects.

Curcumin optimises neurochemical balance

Not only does chronic stress negatively affect the structural integrity of the brain, it also affects its performance. This is especially true in terms of memory, cognition, attention, focus, learning, problem-solving, sleep and behaviour. Many of these cognitive attributes, which are critical to success in life, are driven by the neurotransmitter’s serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and norepinephrine. Chronic stress is known to cause significant alterations in the balance of these neurotransmitters leading to a variety of emotional and cognitive disorders. Remarkably, according to an Australian review of the literature in 2012, curcumin has been shown to promote optimal neurochemical integrity and balance in a variety of research settings.

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