Inflammation and Depression


brain-3168269_1920In the last post I discussed that depression has not been *proven* to be caused by a lack of serotonin and that instead, research points to inflammation and gut health. Let’s start out with inflammation and its role in a depressed mood.

Inflammations Role

Inflammation is the body’s way of protecting itself against stress. When the body detects an injury, infection, or foreign substance in the body it sends a mixture of compounds such as blood, cells, and proteins to the site to begin the healing process. One of the compounds that are activated are cytokines. Cytokines are a chemical messenger that help coordinate the immune system attack on the invader.  A number of studies have shown that individuals with elevated depression also have elevated levels of cytokines. Even more, those with higher levels of depression have higher amounts of cytokines. These cytokines are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and cause inflammation in the brain when chronically activated. In addition, sensitivity to cortisol can decrease. Cortisol is the body’s buffer to inflammation and when there is less sensitivity to cortisol inflammation is prolonged.

Anti-Inflammatory Medications and Depression

There have also been studies that have shown that anti-inflammatory drugs or herbs have shown to be effective in treating depression. They are shown to especially be helpful when antidepressants haven’t provided results to depressed patients. Now, you can’t just go take some ibuprofen and think that will help. It needs to specifically work on lowering the levels of cytokines in the body. The previously linked article discusses how researchers looked at individuals taking this class of drug to treat autoimmune issues and their levels of depression. In my previous blog article I reported how this was how antidepressants came about as well. I have not seen anything about that discovery in the 1950s that states that they looked at depression levels independent of how well the drug actually treated the tuberculosis symptoms it was given for. In this article, however, they do state that they looked at how well the anti-inflammatory drug treated depression, even if it didn’t treat the autoimmune issues (meaning, they weren’t happier only because their physical symptoms from the autoimmune issues cleared up!)

More research is needed for this to become standard practice but with all the new research coming out about inflammation and depression, we may find that it is truly a cause for many (but not all) people’s depression and anxiety. If you have found that antidepressants have not been helpful in treating your depression or you also have inflammation based disorders, you may choose to ask your doctor about this research and whether they believe you are a good candidate for this type of treatment .Of course, I am not a medical professional and cannot diagnose a medical reason for your depression so please just use this to start a conversation with your medical provider. I have had many clients who have brought their own research about mental health issues up to their doctors and have educated their doctors, enabling them to help others with the same issue.

In the next blog article in this series, I’ll explain how gut health is related to inflammation and to depression.