Depression & Inflammation: Cause or Effect?

Serious guy in a gray sleeveless focusing on problem.

There is no question that depression is big in Aotearoa and worldwide. In New Zealand 1 in 5 women will experience it and 1 in 8 men. As natural health practitioners, there are many ways of understanding depression, and many ways to support people experiencing it. Looking at diet and nutrition is always important, as are nutrient deficiencies, sleep support and stress management. Like any condition, depression can have many causes, and many pieces of a huge puzzle are sometimes needed to get a clear picture. One important piece which has been identified is the role of inflammation in depression.

 

Studies show that people with depression have higher bio-markers of inflammation in their body, such as elevated CRP (C-reactive protein), TNF-alpha, and certain prostaglandins. They also appear to have lower levels of common anti-inflammatory markers. Increased inflammation can actually cause serotonin to be degraded and reduced, lowering levels of our ‘happy hormone’.

 

It seems that it’s no accident that inflammation and depression are often unhappy bedfellows. Stress and the way we respond to it can increase inflammation in our bodies. There are many changes that can happen in the body when exposed to chronic stress, such as the increased inflammation in the nervous system and brain triggered by long term elevations of the stress hormone cortisol. In the presence of cortisol, some parts of the brain don’t get access to the fuel they need for optimal function. It seems stress also reduces the brain’s ability to perform its normal functions, such as its important antioxidant processes.

 

A higher risk of increased inflammation and associated depression may be found in:

  • Anyone with existing inflammatory disorders
  • Older age
  • Poor Sleepers
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smokers
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Obesity
  • Chronic or recurrent depression
  • Early life stress
  • Fatigue
  • Pain

 

The awesome news is that this understanding gives us all new tools to support those with depression. Specific botanical extracts and nutrients that are anti-inflammatory such as Turmeric and Saffron have been shown to be useful therapies. It also helps us understand why some other treatments that are tried and true may work so well, such as high dose omega-3 fish oils.

 

As research uncovers new ways of understanding depression, we can see that there is always, but always, hope. And hope is often the very best medicine there is.

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