The feel-good spice

I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it here before, but I have a deep love of India. I studied there and have worked there, and the country never ceases to dazzle the senses with its vibrant culture and color at every turn.

I love the cuisine, too. Especially the spices. And of course one of the most notable spices in Indian cuisine is turmeric. Turmeric is one of the central ingredients in curry. And it has also become well known for its many health benefits. These benefits are typically traced back to curcumin, which is the active ingredient of turmeric (and gives curry its characteristically yellow color).

I’ve written quite a few RHCs about this wonderful spice, which is fast becoming one of my desert-island supplements — and here’s just one more reason why: A recent study showed that curcumin extract can help treat symptoms of major depression. And another study found curcumin extract worked as well as Prozac.

That’s a great find given that most of the common antidepressants used today have terrible side effects, including weight gain and sexual issues. Curcumin doesn’t have any of those side effects. (And, in fact, it may even speed up metabolism.)

The problem with curcumin pills is that the bioavailability can be low. So while I do recommend curcumin supplements, I also recommend cooking with turmeric (powder and the essential oil you get from the spice make for better absorption). There’s a company that is currently working on patenting a branded curcumin ingredient with better bioavailabilty, but it’s not available to the public yet. When it is—and when I review the science behind it—I’ll get back to you.

In the meantime, what I can tell you now is that the medicinal value of curcumin (and turmeric) is tremendous. Which is why it’s been used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. And in the past several years, over 7,000 studies have been performed on this spice, with overwhelmingly positive results.

And this latest research on depression is just one of the benefits research has uncovered.

This new study found that curcumin extract worked quite well across the board in terms of alleviating symptoms of depression (including anxiety). But it also seemed to work well in “atypical depression,” which regular antidepressants generally don’t do a great job treating.

The researchers think curcumin worked for this form of depression because it’s associated with inflammation in the brain. And alleviating inflammation is one of the hallmark benefits of turmeric and curcumin.

These studies used 500 mg of curcumin twice per day in supplement form. But don’t forget to stock your pantry with turmeric too. You can find it in most grocery stores, but I recommend checking gourmet shops or specialty spice stores for the best quality.

Sleep the pounds off

I’ve talked many times before about the benefits of getting plenty of quality sleep. And now there’s another one to add to the list: Getting more sleep reduces junk food cravings.

A recent study, published in this month’s issue of the journal Appetite found that when sleep-deprived, overweight adults got an average of 96 (now that’s specific…) extra minutes of sleep a night, it reduced their cravings for sweet and salty junk food by 62 percent. And their overall appetite decreased by 14 percent.

I’ve written about this before: Being awake when you should be sleeping comes at a serious metabolic cost. It takes more energy just to stay awake. And many times, people compensate for this by, you guessed it—eating.

Yes, losing weight is harder for some people than for others. Some people have inherited a genetic tendency to gain weight easily. I have the obesity gene myself, and grew up as an overweight child — so I know of which I speak.

But you can beat this genetic tendency with good diet and exercise habits, and other things that are entirely under your control. Like getting enough sleep.


“Curcumin for the treatment of major depression: A randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled study.” J Affect Disord. 2014; 167:368-375

“Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial.” Phytother Res. 2014; 28(4): 579-585

“The effects of extended bedtimes on sleep duration and food desire in overweight young adults: A home-based intervention,” Appetite 2014; 80: 220-224