Inflammation Can Fan the Flames of Depression

Chronic inflammation in the bloodstream can intensify depression, according to a new study at Rice University and Ohio State University. The researchers say the process is similar to throwing gasoline on a fire.

For the study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers analyzed 200 existing papers on depression and inflammation.

“In the health area of psychology at Rice, we’re very focused on the intersection of health behavior, psychology, and medicine,” said co-author Dr. Christopher Fagundes, an assistant professor of psychology.

“One thing that we’re particularly interested in is how stress affects the immune system, which in turn affects diseases and mental health outcomes, the focus of this paper.”

In addition to being tied to numerous physical health issues, such as cancer and diabetes, systemic inflammation is linked to mental health issues, including depression. Among patients suffering from clinical depression, concentrations of two inflammatory markers, CRP and IL-6, were found to be elevated by up to 50 percent.

Fagundes said chronic inflammation is most common in individuals who have experienced significant stress in their lives, including struggling with lower socioeconomic status or having a history of abuse or neglect during childhood. Other contributing factors are a poor diet and high body mass index.

“Previous research shows that individuals who have socioeconomic issues or had problems in their early lives are already at higher risk for mental issues because of these stresses in their lives,” Fagundes said. “As a result, they often experience a higher occurrence of chronic inflammation, which we have linked to depression.”

He said that it is normal for humans to react with an inflammatory response such as redness to an area of the body that is injured.

“This is your immune system working to kill that pathogen, which is a good thing,” Fagundes said. “However, many individuals exhibit persistent systemic inflammation, which we’re finding is really the root of all physical and mental diseases. Stress, as well as poor diet and bad health behaviors, enhances inflammation.”

Fagundes noted that a strong support system early in life is paramount in helping individuals learn to deal with stress later in life.

The findings also show that depression triggered by chronic inflammation is typically resistant to traditional therapy methods, but can be treated with activities such as yoga, meditation, NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and exercise.

Fagundes hopes the study will shed light on the dangers of bodily inflammation and the steps that can be taken to avoid it. He is launching a five-year bereavement study aimed at examining how inflammation impacts depression and disease among those who recently lost a spouse in hopes of finding better ways to treat grieving older adults.

“We still have a lot to learn about how inflammation impacts depression, but we are making progress,” he said “We hope one day this work will lead to new treatments that are part of standard psychiatric care.”

Source: Rice University

Inflammation of the body photo by shutterstock.