Editor’s note: This information is provided as an invitation for discourse and research on the biochemical contributors to depression and potential options for healing. It is not meant to treat or diagnose inflammation, depression, or any other condition. Do not stop your prescription medications or alter your medication schedule without express directions from your prescribing physician.
I wrote an article recently on some of the things I do to , noting that a number of them were anti-inflammatory. I posed the thought that perhaps inflammation may be a good direction for research on mood disorders going forward. Little did I know that I’m far from the first person to have this thought.
Hey, I’m a life coach, not a doctor.
The traditional, pharmacology-centric, view of depression is that it is a chemical imbalance, usually involving serotonin. The problem with this gospel is that there is very little scientific proof. If you read the literature for antidepressants, they say something along the lines of “a lot of people think depression is caused by a chemical imbalance – here try this.” The number of people for whom antidepressants work is abysmal. And it’s possible the action by which they work isn’t well understood—increased serotonin may have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Dr. Brogan is a psychiatrist out of New York who treats her patients holistically, with an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle changes. And she gets results. Her position is that depression and anxiety are not diseases but symptoms of systemic inflammation.
How did I get so inflamed?
We all experience inflammation from time to time; it’s the body’s reaction to stressors like disease and injury. If you’ve ever had something swell up, (not that thing, keep your mind out of the gutter) you’ve seen inflammation first-hand.
But you can have systemic chronic inflammation where the body thinks it’s under attack and it responds by protecting itself. It releases proteins that are meant to protect the cells and organs. Inflammation is necessary to fight things like infections and to heal wounds. These are temporary. When inflammation stays in the system, it’s a problem.
Part of your fight or flight response in the body releases inflammatory chemicals called C-reactive proteins. This is great short-term. However, long-term stress or ruminating on past stressful events can keep these proteins elevated in your system.
Long-term, these chemicals can wreak havoc on your body and have been associated with sleep disorders, digestive problems, heart disease, and obesity. They’re bad for your dental health, your skin, and are linked to a higher rate of cancer. Yes, chronic inflammation is linked to depression and anxiety.
What does the research say on depression and inflammation?
Many studies have shown that patients with depression have elevated C-reactive proteins. We know that these elevated inflammatory marker levels are associated with some depression symptoms including fatigue, appetite issues, and reduced motivation.
Think about the last time you were sick with a cold or flu. You probably weren’t hungry, felt like crawling up into a ball and didn’t want to hang out with company. Congratulations, you know what depression feels like all the time.
One study found that had a higher risk of some health problems, including depression as adults. The other thing they found was that these adults had higher than average levels of C-reactive proteins. Having a crappy childhood affects your metabolic and immune system, and co-occurs with depression.
So what’s the problem with antidepressants?
Let me just say that nothing I write here is medical advice – I’m not a doctor. And you should never go off of or alter any medication without consulting a licensed physician. I am speaking from my personal experience with depression and nutrition and what I have learned on this journey.
If an inflammatory condition is causing your depression, and antidepressants make you feel better, you may be hiding a symptom of a bigger problem. Let’s say you get a concussion. You take a handful of Tylenol, and two shots of whiskey (which you wouldn’t do if you’ve read the warning label on Tylenol) and you start to feel much better. So you avoid going to the hospital because, how bad could it be?
Dr. Brogan says that antidepressants, like SSRIs, may be hiding important signals for help from your body. Talk with your doctor about what signs and symptoms are suppressed by your meds.
The main issue for me with antidepressants is that they just suck. They don’t work for everyone, can take a long time before they start to work, and then cause side-effects in a high percentage of the people they help. They are super-profitable for the pharmaceutical industry, and psychiatrists practically set their prescription pads on fire handing these things out.
Let me note here that if you take antidepressants, and they work for you – fantastic. I don’t judge; I’m just presenting another view.
Do not stop or alter your medications or medication schedule without express directions from your prescribing physician.
Help, I’m inflamed, now what?
If there is a silver-lining to chronic inflammation, it’s that there are low-risk ways to start getting healthy. Eating right, losing excess body fat, lowering stress, getting enough sleep – no doctor is going to lock you away for doing these things.
You can get medical tests for inflammation. Fasting insulin levels as well as C-reactive protein levels. Speak to your doctor about these things. I’m going to ask my naturopathic doctor about these tests this week.
Look into gut health. A leaky gut is a sure pathway to all kinds of diseases.
There are some anti-inflammatory supplements, many of them are herbs you can use in cooking. Turmeric and ginger are two excellent ones. And eat your blueberries – they’re tasty and good for you.
Finally, I would like to see even more research on the link between depression and inflammation. I’d like to see more doctors trying to heal with diet and lifestyle changes as opposed to the prescription pad. And if you have depression, ask your doctor about the possible connection to chronic inflammation
More by John D. Moore here on GMP.
For nutrition including gut health, see posts from Dietitian Joe Leech here on GMP.
Photo credit: Pixabay