has recently reported on growing support from scientists that depression could
be a result of inflammation caused by the body’s immune system.
As much to do with the body as with the mind?
George Slavich, a clinical psychologist at
the University of California in Los Angeles, who has studied depression for many years firmly believes
it has as much to do with the body as it has with the mind. He says “I don’t even talk about it as a psychiatric condition any more. It does
involve psychology, but it also involves equal parts of biology and physical
Behaviour when sick looks a lot like depression
Psychologists have already coined the term
‘sickness behaviour’ seen in those suffering from an illness – feelings of
misery, tiredness, boredom and apathy. They’re actually there for a good
reason, probably to stop us making the illness worse or spreading it to others.
Sickness behaviour looks very much like depression therefore it’s not
implausible that there may be a common cause for both.
Inflammation the most likely candidate
The most likely candidate for the common cause so far is
inflammation in the body. Inflammation is part of the immune system function,
it calls other part of the immune system in the body to action to deal with
injury and illness. Specifically it is a group of proteins called cytokines
that kicks off inflammation in the body and flicks the brain into sickness
Research looks to support claim
Research conducted on sufferers of bipolar
depression has shown both cytokines and inflammation to increase sharply during
depressive episodes and decrease again during periods of remission. Further
studies have shown that temporary depression and anxiety can be induced in
healthy people by administering a vaccine that causes a spike in inflammation.
Other clues include: people with inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis tend to suffer more than average with depression and cancer patients
given an inflammatory response boosting drug called interferon alpha often
suffer from depression as a side effect. Obesity is another risk factor as body
fat, particularly around the belly, stores large quantities of cytokines.
Stress also a factor
Stress also causes inflammation, especially
that resulting from social rejection or loneliness – characteristics of modern
life that could explain why prevalence of depression has increased so much
across the world.
Omega-3s and Curcumin (Turmeric) may offer natural treatment
More research is needed, however a small
number of clinical trials have shown that adding anti-inflammatory medicines to
antidepressants improves symptoms as well as increasing the proportion of
people that respond to the treatment. Interestingly, there is also some
evidence to suggest that Omega-3 and curcumin (a compound of turmeric) might have similar effects. Both are very easy to obtain in supplement
form so it might be worth considering adding to a prescribed treatment (always consult your doctor first if you are taking prescription medicines).