Can Turmeric Help Your Depression?

Depression is commonly comorbid (co-occurring) with chronic illness and chronic pain. It makes sense. Our lifestyles drastically (and often suddenly) change. We may lose relationships (of different sorts), our purpose in life may change, and not to mention the pain centre of the brain is right next to the mood centre. Even the most resilient of us struggle with depression and a bit of an identity crisis upon having a chronic pain/illness diagnosis (or even no diagnosis but jut the onset of symptoms). I have also struggled with depression. Some of it stemming from childhood trauma, but I really noticed it after the onset of my pain/illness. Actually I was in complete denial about it at first and went to counselling only for anxiety (though my very perceptive counsellor was certainly treating me for depression as well).

Could turmeric have helped my 2016 post-diagnosis struggle (I started seeing a naturopath later that year, who did recommend turmeric, specifically for pain)

So, personally, I’m not a fan of a lot of medication. I take what I need to, and try to find alternative solutions for other things. I would never say that I’ve been more than mildly depressed. I use exercise for pain and it also happens to help with depressive symptoms. When I notice my mood is low I practice behavioural activation. Example – a few weeks ago I noticed I had low mood which was definitely correlated with an increase in pain and decreased energy. I had plans with friends and my partner for a board game night, and while a part of me really wanted to cancel on them, I made myself go because I knew it would improve my mood. Guess what? I really enjoyed the night, had a great time, and slept in the next day so it was all good (actually it was great!).

Exercise and behavioural activation are great and there is tons of research to show their effectiveness for pain and depression. There is a growing amount of research showing that turmeric (or more accurately the active ingredient in turmeric – curcumin) is as effective as anti-depressants in treating depression, including with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). It also happens to decrease inflammation in the body, leading to less physical pain. According to the research I’ve linked below, it doesn’t seem to make a huge difference in the amount of curcumin/turmeric used and there were only mild side effects in some patients who were taking doses of 12g/day. Definitely some interesting and potentially helpful research for anyone who, like me, prefers to stay natural as often as possible. Now, I’m by no means dissing anti-depressants. Many people benefit from them and need them. If that’s you, please stick with it. This is more of an option for anyone who doesn’t want to use them, and is looking for alternatives.

Turmeric can come in different forms. Powder that you use on food (popular in many Asian cultures), and supplements you can buy from a health store are the most common and popular. I also have a lovely turmeric tea that I buy and try to drink more often when my pain increases or my mood is low. Definitely a few great options if you’re interested in giving it a try. As with everything, I take a scientific approach and view any of these ideas as an experiment. Clearly the research shows that it works for a lot of people. Will it work for me or you? The only way to find out is to be curious and give it a try. Maybe it’s another way we can keep making the most of it!

Reference:

Ramaholimihaso, T., Bouazzaoui, F., & Kaladjian, A. (2020). Curcumin in Depression: Potential Mechanisms of Action and Current Evidence – A Narrative Review. Front Psychiatry, 11, 572533. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.572533

6 Ways I’m Managing a Weather-Caused Flare (+ 5 More Ways I Could)

Long title, I know. But nonetheless I thought I’d share some of my tips with you, plus a few other evidence-based ones I found online as I’m trying to get through this. I’m writing this exactly one week before it will be published so fingers crossed that it’s over by the time you’re reading it, but if not, then I’ll just have to accept it as it is. My flare is likely caused by a few things. First, I recently moved and moving is stressful (even a relatively easy move like I had) and stress can cause a flare. Second, I moved from a dry climate in the interior of British Columbia to the wet, lower mainland of BC. I always notice my symptoms, especially pain gets worse when it rains… but then I knowingly moved to a rainy climate (*face palm*). All jokes aside, my symptoms are increased pain, increased fatigue, really bad jaw pain, my left foot is super veiny and sore (my calf is fine though so unlikely anything super serious). How the heck can I manage all of this?

Even on a flare I’ve managed to explore my new neighborhood.
  1. Acceptance. Yes, I know some of you are rolling your eyes or saying that this is ridiculous or unlikely to work. But I find it does. I accept that my pain is here, while knowing that the intensity changes hour by hour, sometimes even minute by minute, and I know that when my flare is over I’ll go back to baseline. Acceptance is helpful. I’ve been doing body scans and other mindfulness activities to help with the acceptance, but honestly just acknowledging my experience without getting wrapped up in it is helpful. Check out this acceptance practice.
  2. Exercise, Movement and Stretching. If you read this blog regularly you know that I like to exercise. And I still pace myself by trying to stay consistent with what I do. I definitely increase my stretching during flares. Particularly I focus on the areas that seem to hurt or need it the most. For example, my jaw is the worst today as I write this, and I’ve made sure to do jaw stretches throughout the day. For more on jaw pain specifically, check out this podcast episode with Dr. Shirazi.
  3. Warm Baths. I LOVE my baths. I literally take a bath 4-5x a week in the winter months. And with the rain, I’m definitely needing them. They help relax my muscles, keep me warm, and are very relaxing. Trust me when I say I could never (and would never) live in an apartment without a bathtub. Knowing what is vital to your self-care is essential to dealing with a flare. Check out this podcast episode on it.
  4. Dressing Warmly and in Layers. Vancouver, if you’ve never been, is a city where everyone dresses in layers. It will likely rain at some point during the day, though you never know exactly when. It could also start off cool and warm up, or vice versa. So I’ve been making sure to put on 3 layers when I go out, and have a pair of mittens on me. I need to remember a hat and/or an umbrella, but I’m working on it!
  5. Hydration. I tend to drink a lot of water. Admittedly more when I’m working. Staying on top of my water intake is so important to managing my flares and really my health! I’m trying to drink 5 full glasses of water a day minimum. I basically keep a glass of water next to me all day and every time it’s empty, I refill it. Listen to my podcast conversation with Beau Berman about gut health and how important drinking water is to him.
  6. Omega-3’s and Vitamin D. I typically try to get these from the foods I eat. Lots of fish mostly (rich in both), as well as mushrooms, spinach, avocado and tofu and really a variety of others foods are rich in vitamin D. These are really important for reducing inflammation naturally and honestly are just really good for you! Also, Vitamin D is a way to combat with the “winter blues” (which I often get) and the more severe, Seasonal Affective Disorder.

So those are the 6 things that I am doing, but what are the 5 things that I’m not but probably should be?

  1. Acupuncture. This is actually an evidence-based and recommended treatment for chronic pain. I’ve had it in the past and I’m hoping to start back up with bi-monthly sessions next month. Listen to the podcast episode on recommended treatments for chronic pain for more info.
  2. Massage. I miss getting massages. It’s been nearly a year since I had one, and this is also a service I used to get bi-monthly. I’ll likely also start these back up soon as well. Clearly I need to. The benefits of massage can be heard in the podcast episode with Danielle Potvin.
  3. NSAIDs. I’m not a fan of these drugs to be honest. They can cause stomach problems when on them long term. I’ve drastically cut back on them and only take them to supplement the more natural medications I take (i.e., CBD). If you’re aware of the risks and find them helpful then this can be a helpful solution.
  4. Natural supplements. The only natural supplement I currently take is magnesium bis-glycinate which is a muscle relaxant (and I mainly use it when I’m menstruating). Other recommended supplements are fish oil, ginger (which I sometimes have in food and/or tea), turmeric (which I sometimes have in tea), and gingko. These are definitely worth checking out to use in addition to some of the other suggestions.
  5. Limit Stress. Oh I can’t wait until I’m passed the stress of the move and starting up new counselling practices. The truth is there is always some kind of stress in our lives and it really comes down to how we manage stress. I typically do a good job with mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and relaxation practices. So this might just be a reminder to do a bit more of that. And also, if you are able to avoid stress then that’s a good plan (I do not plan on moving again for quite some time!).
Taking it easy on Halloween. Needed some time to relax after the move.

So that’s it! 11 ways in total to manage a flare. Keep making the most of it everyone!

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