Is There A Link Between Inflammation And Depression?

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The 21st century has accompanied various discoveries about mental health conditions like depression and the options for treating them. As mental health challenges are discussed more in society, there may be less stigma surrounding the topic. One of the new connections discussed in psychology is the link between inflammation and depression. Understanding this link may help you and those you love to remain healthy and informed on mental wellness.

Wondering how inflammation and depression are linked?

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is the body's natural response to 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. Inflammation can be positive when working properly. However, if your body is inflamed without disease, infection, or bacteria to fight, it leads to chronic inflammation. 

Chronic inflammation has been linked with many diseases, including stroke and heart disease. Autoimmune disorders can also cause it. For this reason, targeting inflammation in your body through anti-inflammatory treatments, stress reduction, and mental healthcare can be essential. 

Research on inflammation and depression: Are they related?

Studies show how inflammation is connected to depression. According to a study in the HHS Public Access journal, major depressive disorder (MDD) is associated with neuroinflammation. Completing PET scans of study participants, the results showed significant swelling in the brains of the individuals with depression, with more severe swelling based on the severity of depressive symptoms.

Some studies have found that the link between depression and inflammation is most significant in clients who show less improvement using antidepressants. One study discovered that heightened levels of inflammation molecules before treatment predicted a poor response to antidepressants.

While more research may be done in this area, understanding depression and inflammation could be a leap in how psychologists understand depression treatment. For some people with depression, finding treatment can be time-consuming, and some people may live with treatment-resistant depression

Research on inflammation and antidepressants may be able to help psychiatrists and doctors in the future understand the link between inflammation and which medications work best for certain populations. 

Stress, depression, and inflammation 

Scientists have found evidence that chronic high stress levels are related to chronic inflammation. As the body experiences increased stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that do not go away, the body's systems may go into overload, causing inflammation in multiple areas. 

Stress may be more common in those with depression, as the symptoms and adverse impacts of depression can cause daily stress due to functioning impairments. If you're living with depression, reducing stress may also reduce inflammation. 

How does mental health impact the physical body?

Mental health conditions may affect not only your mental health but also your physical health. If you have symptoms of depression and are also experiencing inflammation, you might experience more chronic pain. To treat your mental health, you may also benefit from treating your physical health. 

How to reduce inflammation

If you are experiencing inflammation of any cause, first reach out to your doctor to rule out underlying medical conditions. You can then try the following at-home strategies for reducing inflammation. 

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet 

Try to eat more anti-inflammatory foods. These may include the following: 

  • Fruits and vegetables 
  • Fish
  • Walnuts
  • Soybeans
  • Flaxseed
  • Tofu 
  • Celery
  • Tea 
  • Blueberries
  • Grapes
  • Ginger

If you are looking for more directions on how to eat an anti-inflammatory diet, you could consider looking at the Mediterranean diet, which is based on similar principles.

Cut out inflammatory foods 

The second step is to cut out any foods that add to inflammation. These can include processed foods, corn oil, and red meat. You may also reduce or eliminate the amount of refined sugar, white flour, and other carbohydrates you take in.


Exercise is a significant way to reduce inflammation. You don't necessarily need to jump into a high-intensity workout regimen to exercise, but you can try to get 30 minutes of exercise four or five times throughout the week. Exercise can include walking, swimming, jogging, and other low-impact formats. It may also be beneficial to try ten minutes of weight training a few times a week if it fits your schedule.  

Reduce stress 

Learning how to manage your stress can be essential when addressing inflammation or depression. Effective ways of managing stress can include mindfulness and meditation. It can also be helpful to learn deep breathing techniques to help you during a stressful situation. Learning to control your breath may lower your blood pressure, which can help you manage your stress and reduce inflammation. 

Wondering how inflammation and depression are linked?

Talk to a therapist

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it may be beneficial to seek treatment. There are hundreds of therapeutic modalities available to treat mental illness, and many do not require medication. While medication can be helpful for some people, it might not work for everyone with depression. Contrarily, some people find the most effective treatment is a combination of medication and therapy.

Working with a therapist, either in person or through an online platform like BetterHelp, is an effective way to learn how to cope with depression and manage the symptoms that may accompany it. One study found that online mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) could be as effective as in-person therapy in treating depressive disorders. 

Online therapy is convenient, as sessions can be held at a time that suits your schedule. In addition, you can meet with a therapist from the comfort of your own home—or anywhere you have an internet connection and an electronic device. 


Treating your entire body may benefit your mind, as well. While therapy can be one of the most effective ways of coping with depression, making healthy lifestyle changes may also reduce inflammation. Studies continue to look at these links to help individuals and professionals make healthier choices. 

If you have questions about treatment options, consult your physician and a mental health professional for further guidance. Finding a suitable treatment plan may take several tries, but you can use a combination of treatments to find one that helps.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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