Is Turmeric (Curcumin) a Nootropic?

One of the most common questions I get from readers is, “does turmeric qualify as a nootropic?”

The answer: an emphatic yes, turmeric is a nootropic.


The fast majority of turmeric’s benefits come from constituent compounds called curcuminoids, the most beneficial one being curcumin.

Note that turmeric contains just ~3% curcumin, so it would be difficult to eat enough turmeric to get the benefits of curcumin. Instead, I take curcumin extract supplements, which contain much more curcumin in a small pill.

I don’t take a lot of supplements (usually just creatine, whey protein and vitamin D), but curcumin is one of the healthiest, most scientifically-backed supplements you could take.

5 Main Nootropic Benefits of Curcumin (Turmeric)

They have a long list of health benefits, the main ones being:

1. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties

By fighting inflammation, turmeric helps fight chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

About 1/3 of Americans suffer from metabolic syndrome, a condition of full-body inflammation that leads to the aforementioned diseases.

A recent study evaluated the anti-inflammatory benefits of curcumin by giving people 1g of curcumin powder for eight weeks. When the study was over, they had lower levels of inflammation throughout the body, as well as lower blood sugar.

One of the other great nootropic benefits of curcumin is that it crosses the blood brain barrier. In other words, it’s able to help against neurodegenerative disorders where other supplements would not.

Curcumin’s mechanism of action is akin to vitamin D, having a wide range of epigenetic effects (turning on good genes, and turning off bad genes). Consequently, curcumin inhibits enzymes that cause inflammation, such as COX2 and 5-LOX.

2. Curcumin is a strong antioxidant

By scavenging free-radicals and supporting the body’s natural antioxidant mechanisms, curcumin curbs oxidative stress in the brain.

Oxidative damage is the main culprit in many chronic diseases, including aging. It happens when certain unstable molecules interact with important molecules in our cells, like DNA and proteins.

Antioxidants like curcumin are like the scavengers of these unstable molecules, our biological line of defense. Curcumin molecules are more than just defenders.

Not only do they protect cells from oxidative stress, they also boost the body’s natural defenses by stimulating the production of antioxidant enzymes like glutathione and metallothionein.

Thus, curcumin’s antioxidant benefits are two-fold, at once preventing harmful oxidative stress while simultaneously rousing the body’s natural defenses.

3. Curcumin helps grow new brain cells

Curcumin boosts nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), two proteins that are crucial to the growth of new brain cells, and prevention of neurodegenerative diseases.

–> Read more: Neurogenesis: How To Increase Nerve Growth Factor (NGF)

Personally, I’m an advocate of anything that helps grow new brain cells, as I’ve spent the past decade or so doing all sorts of things that kill brain cells.

Curcumin to the rescue!

The old scientific dogma was such that we have a fixed number of brain cells, and these slowly decay with age. Once dead, brain cells were gone forever… or so we thought.

New research from Princeton shows that, although brain cells do indeed die, we can create new brain cells as we age (and new connections between brain cells — essentially, rewiring the brain).

Thanks to its NGF stimulating properties, curcumin is the best supplement for growing new brain cells fast.

4. Curcumin may prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

Through the above mechanisms, we can see that curcumin protects the brain.

But in addition to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neurotrophic benefits, curcumin specifically clears the amyloid beta protein plaques which cause Alzheimer’s.

5. Curcumin is an effective treatment for depression

Some studies show that curcumin is more effective than Prozac. Not only does it boost BDNF levels, but also boosts dopamine and serotonin in the brain.

The health benefits of turmeric / curcumin don’t stop there, but those are its main nootropic benefits.

Reading through these, it may sound like curcumin is a wonderdrug. Well, it is.

I keep a giant bag of fresh, organic turmeric in my pantry and take at lea