How Inflammation And Depression Are Linked
By: Stephanie Kirby
Updated August 28, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Kristen Hardin
In recent years, there has been a lot of progress made and new discoveries on mental health conditions such as depression. As mental challenges are being talked about more and more in society, there is starting to be less of a stigma surrounding the topic. This is helping to get the conversation surrounding mental health to happen more often, which is leading to increased awareness on the topic. One of the new connections that is being found is the link between inflammation and depression.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a response of your body. It's your body's natural response to dealing with things like disease, infection, and injury. When parts of your body become inflamed it lets your immune system know that it needs to focus on healing that part of the body.
This is a good thing when it's working properly, but if your body is continuing to be inflamed when there is not disease, infection, or bacteria to fight, it leads to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked with many other diseases including stroke and heart disease. It can also be connected with autoimmune disorders. That's why it's important to make sure that you are taking the steps to control inflammation in your body.
Recent studies are showing how inflammation is connected to depression in multiple ways. There are many working theories on the connection.
According to an article on Medical News Today, researchers recently conducted a test on 40 individuals. Twenty of the patients were diagnosed with depression and to the other twenty were control participants that showed no symptoms. When doing PET scans of the individuals, the results showed that there was, "significant swelling in the brains of the individuals with depression, and that the swelling was most severe among the participants with the most severe depression."
Some studies have found that the link between depression and inflammation is greatest in the patients who showed less improvement from using antidepressants. One such study as described in Psychology Today went as far as stating that they discovered that heightened levels of inflammation molecules before treatment predicted a poor response to antidepressants.
While there is still a lot of research to be done in this area, this could be an important leap in getting treatment for those suffering from depression. Right now, a common problem for those with depression is that finding the right form of treatment can be time-consuming.
Some people don't positively respond to the first antidepressant that they are put on, which can lead to a frustrating road for the patient. It can take weeks to months to really know if an antidepressant is going to work properly or not. So, if a person spends time trying one only to find that it doesn't work, they have to start the process over again with a different medication.If the findings from the study are true, this would give doctors more information when prescribing medications and possibly prevent some people from having to try multiple medications that will not work.
Depression Increases Inflammation
The same article in Psychology Today discusses the results of a test that has been done with mice to see if there is a connection between inflammation and stress. The mice were put under unpredictable situations that could induce stress and were found to have higher levels of inflammation because of it. However, the study also found that some mice were more susceptible to stress than others were. This means that some of them were at a higher risk of developing inflammation than the rest of them.
The theory that scientists are working onis to see if there is evidence to prove that when people are exposed to higher levels of stressful situations, they experience higher levels of inflammation. As the body deals with this inflammation for longer amounts of time it begins to show sickness behavior. As this goes on for an extended period of time, it can begin to show symptoms of depression.
However, it's very important to note that not every person that struggles with depression has inflammation. Depression is not an inflammatory disease even though some people with depression experience higher levels of inflammation markers.
Mental Health Impacts Your Whole Body
Even though the studies leave a lot of questions unanswered, they are a good indicator that inflammation and depression are connected. Although we don't know as to what extreme that actually means at this time, it's important information to know if you are dealing with depression.
Mental health conditions do not just affect your mental health, they affect your physical health as well. If you have symptoms of depression and are also experiencing inflammation, it can lead down a road to chronic inflammation and other medical conditions.
This is why it's very important to treat your entire body instead of just individual parts of it. If you're experiencing problems with your mental health such as depression, there are changes that you can make in your physical health that can actually improve your mental stability and overall health.
How to Reduce Inflammation
If you think that you are experiencing inflammation or if you want to make sure that you are doing the best that you can to avoid experiencing it, there are some easy changes that you can make in order to help.
The first is to load up on eating plenty of anti-inflammatory foods. This includes fruits and vegetables and getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. Good sources of this are in fish, walnuts, soybeans, flaxseed, and tofu. Other examples of anti-inflammatory foods include celery, tea, blueberries, grapes, and ginger. If you are looking for more directions on how to eat on an anti-inflammatory diet, you could consider looking at the Mediterranean diet which is based on similar principles.
The second step is to cut out any foods that add to inflammation. This includes things like processed foods, corn oil, and red meat. It's also a good idea to reduce or eliminate the amount of refined sugar, white flour, and other simple carbohydrates.
Exercise is also an important way that you can reduce inflammation. This does not mean that you need to jump into a high-intensity workout regimen but you can try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise four or five times throughout the week. It's also beneficial to do at least 10 minutes of weight training a few times a week as well.
These health changes can also help you to reach a healthy weight. Patients who are overweight tend to have a bigger problem with inflammation than those that are of a healthy weight.
Get Stress Under Control
Learning how to manage your stress is an important thing to do for both dealing with inflammation and depression. Studies have found that the more stress that you deal with on a regular basis, the higher the chances that you will also deal with inflammation.
Stress is also related to depression and can make dealing with the symptoms of it even harder. Therefore, learning how to control your stress is good for both inflammation and depression.
Effective ways of managing stress can include things like mindfulness and meditation. It's also helpful to learn deep breathing techniques to help you when you are in the midst of a stressful situation. And, learning how to control your breath can help you lower your blood pressure which can help you manage your stress better.
Talk to a Therapist
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it's important to seek treatment. There are many different forms of treatment that are available for depression and the solution isn't just taking an antidepressant. While medication can be helpful for some people, as the studies have found it is not helpful for all people that are suffering from depression. Further, some people find the most effective treatment is a combination of medication and therapy.
Working with a therapist either in person or online is an effective way to learn how to handle depression and the symptoms that come along with it. Therapists can use different forms of therapy to help you learn important coping strategies to manage your depression and regain control of your life.
Remember that it's best to treat your entire body and not just one single area. While therapy can be incredibly helpful for learning how to deal with depression, making healthy lifestyle changes can also help you deal with depression and the inflammation that can be a result of it.
There will be a lot of new information emerging about the connection between inflammation and depression. However, the studies that have already been done show that there is likely a connection that we should not ignore. If you have questions about this, talk with your physician and a mental health professional to find the answers that you're looking for.
It may take several tries to find the perfect treatment plan for you, but don't be afraid of using a combination of treatments to find the right plan.
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