How does turmeric help in bipolar disorder?


Turmeric is a herb and a spice native to India and Asia. It has been used since ages in traditional medicine to treat various disorders. Curcuminoids and its oil fraction are said to have biological activity. Anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-tumor, anti-microbial are few of its pharmacological properties. Turmeric acts in multiple ways to help control symptoms and progression of bipolar disorder.

1. Turmeric helps prevent brain damage with its antioxidant power

The brain is susceptible to oxidative stress due to the limited presence of antioxidant enzymes, high oxygen requirement, and presence of lipids.

Oxidative stress is an imbalance between pro-oxidant species and antioxidants which can lead to tissue damage and organ failure.

A number of genetic and environmental factors such as infection, malnutrition, psychological stress cause oxidative stress in bipolar disorder.

In a study analysing the oxidative stress occurring in bipolar patients, blood samples were collected.

The samples showed the presence of increased lipid peroxidation (destruction of cellular fats by reactive oxygen species leading to cell death).

The blood-brain barrier (a protective barrier that protects the brain from foreign substances) is disrupted in patients suffering from bipolar disorder allowing reactive oxygen species to permeate.

The activity of antioxidant enzymes is impaired in this disorder and increased oxidative stress can increase risk of developing heart diseases.


This is one interesting study I stumbled upon. Violent suicidal behavior is associated with a mutation in a gene linked with body’s antioxidant defence.

Pretty amazing to know that genetic factors can control our thought process…

Turmeric’s antioxidant property is very well proven by science.

Its antioxidant activity is as strong as Vitamin E and C. Curcuminoids are potent antioxidants.

The different mechanisms by which turmeric exhibits its antioxidant property are :

  • It scavenges reactive oxygen species and ions that cause oxidative stress.
  • It prevents tissue damage by lipid peroxidation.
  • It increases the level of antioxidant enzymes.

Curcumin is proven to increase the levels of antioxidant enzymes and prevent oxidative damage in periods of mania occurring in bipolar disorder.

In an animal model, turmeric is found to be as effective as fluoxetine, a popular antidepressant (Prozac) in terms of improving antioxidant defences.

2. Turmeric controls inflammation in bipolar disorder


Inflammation in bipolar disorder occurs as a result of oxidative stress – google image 

A review study indicates that the levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals in an individual differ depending on the way that person is feeling (mania or depression).

Inflammation is linked with behavioural parameters such as exercise, alcohol abuse, sleep as well as medical parameters such as insulin resistance, obesity, etc.

Research proves that the immune system in such patients is impaired.

High levels of immune cells and pro-inflammatory chemicals are found in people suffering from bipolar disorder.

Inflammation can affect thinking and other related abilities in the patients.

Microglial cells are a type of immune cells found in the brain.

Different genes activate these cells either to cause inflammation or to treat it. Microglial activation is observed in bipolar disorder.

Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory property.

In fact it is found to be better than NSAIDs (common painkillers). Curcumin also helps in reducing inflammation by preventing microglial activation.

To control inflammation turmeric inhibits the activity of :

  • Pro-inflammatory chemicals like interleukin, prostaglandins etc.
  • Immune cells
  • Inflammatory markers such as cyclooxygenase enzymes and nuclear factor kappa B

3. Turmeric regulates the activity of proteins vital for brain functioning

Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein that regulates brain activity and memory. The levels of this protein are altered in bipolar disorder patients.

Interestingly curcumin attempts to bring BDNF levels back to normal and thereby offering neuroprotection by reducing damage to chronic stress, improving memory and preventing mood fluctuations.

4. Turmeric acts as an antidepressant


Kentary Turmeric Starch

Routinely prescribed anti-depressants act on specific biochemical pathways or proteins to treat depression.

Curcumin acts in a similar fashion but it can target multiple proteins or pathways at the same time to help alleviate depression.

Animal studies have been conducted to prove the neuroprotective and antidepressant effect of curcumin and other bioactive constituents of turmeric.

A study was conducted wherein patients with a major depressive disorder were given fluoxetine (Prozac) and curcumin individually or in combination.

The response was highest in the combination group (77.8%) while in fluoxetine it was 64.7% and in curcumin 62.5%. This was the first study to suggest curcumin as a replacement for Prozac.

Combination of curcumin and piperine (active constituents of turmeric and black pepper) is found to enhance the effect of antidepressants by increasing serotonin levels.

A combination of curcumin and St. John’s wort is also said to help in depression by increasing serotonin.

In a clinical trial , patients were given standard antidepressants along with a combination of curcuminoids and piperine or antidepressants alone.

At the end of the trial, a significant reduction in anxiety and depression was observed in the group taking curcuminoids compared to control group.

Researchers concluded that curcuminoids-piperine combination can be given as add-on therapy to standard treatment.

4-8 weeks supplementation with curcumin (500 mg twice a day) is found to help patients suffering from major depressive disorder.

5. Turmeric acts as an anticonvulsant and helps control mood swings

Anticonvulsants are used in the treatment of bipolar disorder as a mood stabilizer.

It is not used to treat seizures but to control mood swings.

They help in controlling mania and depression and help in stabilizing mood and preventing relapse.

Lithium and valproic acid are commonly prescribed drugs.

Turmeric oil is proven to have anti-convulsant property.

In an animal model of seizure, curcumol (a bioactive component obtained from turmeric rhizome) is proven to suppress seizures, reduce susceptibility to seizures and prolong the intervals between recurrences of seizures.

Ar-tumerone and curcumin are also proven to be therapeutic in case of convulsions.


6. Turmeric reduces anxiety

Anxiety is characterized by disturbed moods, fears, and exaggerated stress responses.

The anti-anxiety potential of curcumin has been proven in an animal model.

Research suggests that curcumin modulates chemicals involved in signalling messages in the brain, especially serotonin.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential fatty acid that is vital for proper brain functioning.

The deficiency of this fatty acid can lead to neurological disorders like anxiety.

Curcumin complements the action of DHA on the brain, promotes DHA synthesis and reduces anxiety-like symptoms.

Curcumin also demonstrates anti-anxiety like effect by suppressing oxidative stress.

7. Turmeric can help control weight gain caused by psychiatric medications


Turmeric can help control weight gain – google image 

One of the common reasons why most patients abandon regular treatment is the weight gain and metabolic disturbances caused by medications used to treat bipolar disorder. And turmeric has a remedy for that too!

Research proves that dietary curcumin can help reduce obesity, metabolic syndrome and inflammation associated obesity.

The different mechanisms involved are:

  • Prevents the development of fat cells
  • Regulates lipid metabolism
  • Regulates carbohydrate metabolism by influencing blood sugar and insulin levels
  • Controls inflammation in fat tissue
  • Improves antioxidant defences

Source: Turmericforhealth


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