13 August 2013

mental health mondays :: turmeric tuesday?

scientists at the government medical college in bhavnagar, gujarat may have found the key to fighting
depression: curry night.

according to a study by eight doctors at the school of pharmacology, testing they conducted on 60 patients suffering from major depressive disorder concluded that this rhizome, known best as the ingredient that gives curry its bright yellow colour, performed comparably well to fluoxetine, which you probably know better as prozac.

now, before you go rushing off to the nearest indian buffet to drown your sorrows in a vat of aloo gobi, there are a few things that you should pay attention to- and they're probably instructive for dissecting clinical claims for most products, but especially for pharmaceuticals.

1. 60 people is a small sampling. as starter studies go, it's not bad- i've seen claims based on smaller groups- but it's far from universal. plus, of course, it's only one study.

2. there is no placebo control. you've probably heard of placebos. they're "dummy" medications given to people who are told they're taking a drug so that scientists can see what reaction you get by doing absolutely nothing. that might sound a bit douche-y, considering that they're testing on people who are actually sick, but it's really, really important. why? because human beings can convince themselves of some crazy shit without any help from drugs.

there are studies out there where patients who took placebos reported major, even life-threatening, reactions to the "drug". and when studying a field like mental health, where there are no empirical tests, it becomes extremely important to establish a baseline.

3. the dosage of prozac is very low for treating major depressive disorder. 20mg/ day is a standard starting dose, but it's more common for people to increase that [up to a maximum of about 80mg/ day]. the comparison would likely be more valid if it was done on patients given 40-60mg.

4. while we're talking about dosages, check out the amount of turmeric that was given: 1000mg/ day. now, you can never do weight equivalencies with medications. 40mg of one can have the same effect as 200mg of another and 10mg of a third, but it doesn't mean that one is categorically more effective than the others. however, even if you ignore that there was fifty times as much turmeric given as prozac, there is no getting around the fact that that is a hell of a lot of turmeric. 10 grams. it may not seem like much in terms of food, but in terms of medication... you'd notice that you were swallowing 10 grams a day. [hands up if you're thinking about the last time you bought weed.]

but now that i've raised all these issues, i'd like to say that i consider this a very interesting start. in fact, there's growing body of research that suggests that the active ingredients in turmeric are effective against a variety of diseases. it's an extremely interesting little spice, and deserves to have more research done on it.

the other great advantage is that turmeric is well-tolerated. it doesn't have side effects that would cause patients to stop using it [unless it starts to turn you yellow, which hasn't been reported, but years of curry eating have made me wary of its power] and more importantly, it doesn't have the long-term side effects that might cause patients to have to stop using it.

so you probably don't want to flush your ssri's and grab a container of curry paste just yet, but it's just possible that there is light at the end of the pharmaceutical tunnel. warm, golden light.

2 comments:

Martin Rouge said...

While turmeric might not wholeheartedly replace a pharmacological antidepressant, it would serve well as a regular addendum to the diet in support of the prescription, with no counter-indicatives.

Kate MacDonald said...

Yes, I think that this is how people should really be approaching alternative treatments for mental disorders; not as replacements but as adjunct therapy. People with the most serious conditions normally have to go on a number of medications to control all their symptoms. If a doctor can even get them down to one, it would mitigate the long term damage they can cause.

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