Brain Health,
Smart Drugs,

#118: Turmeric: Spice for your Brain

March 04, 2016

Turmeric does not actually appear in Frank Herbert’s beloved novel, Dune.

But in that novel something called “the spice” is apparently the coolest thing the galaxy has to offer.  It’s kind of like the ultimate nootropic combined with MDMA, giving its users the wisdom of Solomon, the grooviness of the Beatles, and the soul of James Brown.  (All with no hangover.)

No such spice exists on Earth, unfortunately.  But as spices go, our world is not totally out of luck.  We have turmeric: a readily-available plant that has been a mainstay of Indian and Asian cooking for millenia.  Turmeric root is chock-full of bioactive curcuminoid compounds that have been shown to provide benefits from reducing oxidative stress to reducing psychological stress.

Turmeric can even reduce the stress of knowing how to make a tasty dinner.  Rare among the compounds we talk about on Smart Drug Smarts, turmeric tastes amazing.

It’s a spice that much of the world eats on a daily basis, and after hearing this interview with Australian naturopath Matthew Legge (chief scientist at, don’t be surprised to find yourself picking up turmeric powder on your next visit to the grocery store, if it’s not on your spice rack already.

Get Matt’s Recipe for Antioxidant Adaptogenic Therapeutic Turmeric Tea

Matt started out in clinical practice, treating the unwell, but then moved into the athletic performance realm – which included a period of treating racehorses!  (His current practice is built around two-legged clients.)

Matt gained his knowledge of adaptogen plants out of necessity.  In the early days of his practice, he found that when he prescribed compounds documented in the literature, the achieved results didn’t measure up to the hype.  Cutting out the middle man, he began importing his own products and even growing some of his own herbs.  As his knowledge grew and his supply-chain shortened, his clients began seeing the benefits that he’d read were possible, but not seen first-hand.

Matt has used his new know-how to create a line of products at ATP Science (where he also co-hosts a weekly podcast!).

You’ve likely heard of the benefits of turmeric, also known as curcumin.  It’s been the subject of considerable research and is hitting the mainstream media as a reliable, non-pharmacological method of reducing inflammation.  Read about it here and here.

You may also have heard that turmeric is a powerful immune regulator.  But recent research shows that it has anti-depressant, anti-anxiety and stress regulation effects as well – making it almost a one-plant medicine cabinet – especially since it can do all these things without creating sedative effects.

How does it do so darned many amazing things?


CortiTrax by VitaMonk

CortiTrax uses potent doses of natural ingredients including Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, Magnolia and Holy Basil to support a healthy response to stress and high cortisol levels.

Adaptogens – Spookily “Smart” Plants

“Adaptogen” is a name given to a class of plants and fungus — so this is a group without any common biological heritage — that can do amazing things.  When eaten in effective doses, adaptogens tend to normalize physiology regardless of the direction of change.

In other words, they can bring you down if you’re too far up, and bring you up if you’re too far down.  Adaptogens provide a stimulating or relaxing effect depending on the individual’s current physiology.  Sounds pretty great, right?

Adaptogens work primarily through neuroendocrine and immune systems.  Secondary sites of action for adaptogens include the liver, cardiovascular system, kidneys, and pancreas.

Turmeric, in therapeutic doses, takes the burden off the body by dampening the amount of stress signals that go into the body, thus maintaining a more balanced effect.

From Golden Yellow to Red

Another of Matt’s favorite adaptogenic herbs is schizandra – a berry from China with a dark red hue.  This little beauty you may need to order online if you live in the West — but once you do, you could brew it into a tasty tea, or grind it into food to receive its benefits.

Schizandra, Matt explains, works differently than turmeric.  Instead of modulating the body’s stress response, it makes it more efficient.  So, if cortisol levels are low, schizandra  will raise them.  If they are high, it will lower them, as appropriate.

Schisandra has also been shown to improve focus by getting rid of excessive neuroendocrinal activity, which then allows the acetylcholine and dopamine neurotransmitters to work and be felt.

Sage words from Matt Legge: The stuff people take works better than the stuff they don’t take.

Whichever of these herbs you use, it’s important to recognize that the natural synergistic cofactors in adaptogens might be more easily attained when used in the whole plant source and then prepared with food as in a traditional recipe.  The “preparation” may be the as-yet-unrecognized ingredient to getting maximum therapeutic benefits.

For example, turmeric in purely supplemental form is not readily absorbable by the body.  Taking a cue from Ayurvedic Indian food preparation, cooking up a teaspoon of turmeric with a fat (such as ghee) could make your kitchen cabinet spice more potent, cost effective and therapeutic than something you take as a capsule.

There’s much to be learned about how you can improve your health right in your own kitchen.

Listen in to Episode #118 learn more about turmeric’s neuroprotective effects, the cognition-enhancing qualities of schizandra, the therapeutic doses of both plants, and why all of Matt’s kitchen tools are golden yellow.

PS:  Didn’t have a pen handy to write down Matt’s recipes for his therapeutic, memory enhancing teas or the recommended doses for turmeric, both in the kitchen and out? Sign up for our newsletter and get all the details in our next issue – cognitive enhancing therapy right to your inbox.


  1. Jochen says:

    Interesting potential downside of Curcumin.

    Curcumin (specifically in a form that crosses the BBB) seems to be a great substance, but there are 3 things that have me worried:

    MAOI effects.

    I’ve tried researching more regarding this, but I can’t find clear details regarding it. I think it’s a reversible MAO-B inhibitor, but I am absolutely not sure.

    Would one need to exert caution with tyramine-rich foods? How about combining curcumin and something like MDMA? Would there be a risk of serotonin syndrome?

    Cytochrome P450 inhibition.

    This occurs without the combination with piperine, seems like this could lead to interactions with all sorts of stuff.

    Possible genotoxicity.

    Examine states

    In vitro experiments have found that curcumin may damage the DNA of human cells.

    1. Michelle Silbernagel says:

      Hi Jochen,

      Thanks for your inquiries — you certainly have dug deep into the topic. Good for you for checking into all the possible side effects. I passed along your questions to Matt Legge and he was kind enough to respond with some information I hope you find helpful.

      Please stay in touch and let us know if you have any other questions or show topic requests, Michelle

      Potential MAOI effects and whether is a need to cautious with tyramine-rich foods when taking turmeric. [Could one flush the system with glycinate?]

      The MAOI effects are mild and usually do not create any interaction. Looking out for migraines, headaches and monitoring blood pressure to assess the interactions may show individual sensitivities.

      Combining curcumin with a substance like MDMA (concern about serotonin syndrome?) – [have read to simply wait a couple of hours after ingesting curcumin before taking MDMA]

      Yes. That is wise as there will also be CYP450 inhibition by curcumin that will also increase the bioavailability of MDMA.

      Possible Cytochrome P450 inhibition – which can occur without the addition of piperine.

      Yes, it inhibits some CYP450 pathways. Such extensive traditional use and safety data hasn’t shown any major interactions with medications. So again proceed with caution and look for individual sensitivities.

      Possible genotoxicity?

      Again, with such extensive traditional dietary use there is very low risk of toxicity reported.

  2. Joe says:

    Great episode, thanks!

    Just looking at the berry tea, and its says “1 tablespoon (30 grams) dried schizandra berries” – is that the powder or the whole berries?

    2 oz / 56 grams is about $8 on Amazon so that would make the tea quite expensive – is this the right amounts?


    1. Michelle Silbernagel says:

      Hi Joe,
      Great question. One tablespoon of dried schizandra berries refers to the powder — and yes, purchasing powdered schizandra berries can break the bank. You can save yourself money with just a bit more effort by purchasing the whole, dried berry in bulk. Grind them up in a coffee grinder and you’ve got your own powder. I usually grind enough for about a week’s worth of tea and store it in a jar in the fridge. Here’s a link to some bulk (1 lb) Organic Whole Schizandra Berries you can buy online. Good luck!


      1. Joe says:

        Thanks for the extra info Michelle, I will try and find some whole berries.


    2. Michelle Silbernagel says:

      Hi Joe,
      Great question. The tea recipe is for 1 tablespoon of powdered berries. And yes, buying the powdered form of schizandra can break the bank. A more affordable option is to purchase dried whole organic berries in bulk and then grind them up yourself in a coffee grinder. I usually grind enough berries for a week’s worth of tea and keep the dried powder in a jar in the fridge for daily use.
      Here’s a link where you can purchase Organic Dried Whole Schizandra Berries if you want to give that little hack a try. Good luck!


  3. ben says:

    Fermented Tumeric tea is very popular in Okinawa Japan. I wonder if Matt has any thoughts, or even any experience, on the effects of tumeric when fermented.

    Enjoyed hearing about Schisandra berries, rosemary essential oils, Rhodiola rosea, but right around the 28m:33s and 37m:20s mark, can’t quite make out the words.. anyone catch it?

    Regarding tumeric’s ability to suppress the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-2 that is released during physical stress, the same is said about cryotherapy. There’s a great Vice documentary on Wim Hof, who has developed a breathing protocol for doing cold therapy. Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss seem to be big fans as well.

    1. Michelle Silbernagel says:

      Hi Ben,

      I will see if Matt has looked into fermented turmeric. I wouldn’t be surprised! Stay tuned.

      As for your questions regarding the content at 28m:33s and 37m:20s — Matt talked about his use of Schizandra Berry Tea — he takes 1 tablespoon (30 grams) dried schizandra berries, adds it to 1 cup boiling water and lets it steep for 15 minutes, and sips it throughout the day. He also made mention of Shilajit, which is an ayurvedic compound that is sometimes called the “Destroyer of Weaknesses.” If you are interested in hearing more of what Matt has to say about the subject he actually did a podcast episode about it over at ATP Science.

  4. Elaine Jacobson says:

    I have been taking 2 capsules of a Turmeric supplement made by Nature’s Lab, which contain 1000 mg turmeric extract (standardized to 95% curcuminoids) = 950 mg curcuminoids and 5 mg black pepper extract. Additionally, I have been taking 1 fish oil supplement which is from 100% Wild Alaskan Salmon containing 220 mg DHA and 180 mg EPA, total Omega 3 = 600 mg.

    For no good reason, I’ve taken those at different times and based on what Matt said about effectiveness of turmeric with oil, am assuming that if I take these together that it would have a similar effect. Can you confirm?

    Thanks in advance for your reply. I really enjoy this podcast and all the quality research that is presented.

    1. Michelle Silbernagel says:

      Hi Elaine,

      Taking your fish oil supplement with your turmeric supplement will create a synergistic anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative stress effect. Check this out.

      Glad you enjoy the podcast! Keep the comments and questions coming.

  5. Dave H says:

    The biggest drawback (or perhaps I should call it an annoyance) of turmeric powder is how intensely it can stain teeth and anything else it touches, including skin and others surfaces it comes into contact with. I used it to stop and infection in a tooth. It worked and drew out the yucky pus, but it seriously stained my teeth orange-yellow for a few weeks. Otherwise it sounds great. I haven’t yet used it for adaptogenic and other healing purposes other than that, but will soon.

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