Is Depression A Fallout Of Inflammation?

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Dip in brain chemicals - serotonin and norepinephrine, and inflammatory diseases (autoimmune disorders, cancer) have been linked to depression. Studies show that stimuli of systemic inflammation - lack of sleep, addictions, psychosocial stress, poor diet, and vit D deficiency, can trigger depression. Exercise, meditate, and consume anti-inflammatory foods like garlic, ginger, and turmeric.

Depression is much more than just “simply feeling unhappy.” A serious health condition with often debilitating symptoms, it affects about 14.8 million American adults1 and is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.2 The increasing numbers and varied manifestations are prompting scientists to study the triggers with increased alacrity. Studies also show that approximately one-third of all patients with depression fail to respond to conventional antidepressant therapies, irrespective of the treatments available, sparking the urgent need to understand other factors responsible for depression and to develop better treatments.3

Causes of Depression

Various factors can lead to depression. It is often attributed to a chemical imbalance in the brain, caused by dips in brain chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine that communicate information across our brain and body. Depression can also “co-occur” or be triggered by an existing medical condition. You may thus be at a higher risk of depression if you have a longstanding or life-threatening illness such as coronary heart disease or cancer.4 Genetic vulnerability, challenging or traumatic live events (leading to the overproduction of stress hormones), loneliness are all other triggers. Alcohol is also categorized as a “strong depressant” that makes depression worse.5

Recent studies have shown that chronic brain inflammation may also be linked to depression and other mental health problems. It was reported that individuals with inflammatory illnesses such as autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease, and cancer were often found to suffer from depression. Patients with cardiovascular disease showed a higher risk of developing depressive disorders.6

Several Lines Of Evidence Support The Connection Between Depression And Inflammation

  • A study by Berk et al. point to depression being associated with low-grade chronic inflammation. According to the researchers, “A range of factors appear to increase the risk for the development of depression, and seem to be associated with systemic inflammation; these include psychosocial stressors, poor diet, physical inactivity, obesity, smoking, altered gut permeability, atopy, dental cares, sleep and vitamin D deficiency.”7
  • Pasco et al. sought to examine the cause and effect relationship between changes in the immune systems and depression in 1494 women participants. The researchers concluded that significantly higher levels of inflammation in the body increased the risk of developing depression.8
  • A study by Reichenberg et al. showed that depression is often present in acute, inflammatory illnesses.9
  • Dowlati et al. reported significantly higher concentrations of inflammatory proteins secreted by the immune system in patients with depression.10
  • A study by Udina et al. showed that at least one-quarter of patients who took interferon, a medication used to treat hepatitis C, were at increased risk of developing major depression.11
  • Hannestad et al. have pointed out that normalizing inflammatory markers in the body can lead to a reduction of the symptoms in clinical depression.12

Controlling Depression Caused By Inflammation

To combat inflammation-related depression, it is very important to follow an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle.


  • Foods known to promote inflammation should be avoided. These include fast-food and food with high levels of omega 6 fatty acids (found in meat), trans-fats, and sugar.
  • Eat a healthy diet including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and pulses.
  • Garlic, rosemary, ginger, and curcumin have anti-inflammatory properties. Incorporate these into your diet.

Lifestyle changes can also have a profound effect on our inflammatory levels

  • Exercises like tai chi, qigong, yoga, and walking can all help reduce chronic inflammation, thus alleviating the symptoms of depression.
  • Meditation has been shown to be helpful for treating depression in various clinical studies, and can even be effective for treatment-resistant depression. Researchers have specifically studied and endorsed the role of mindfulness meditation in reducing the risk of inflammatory disease. A Carnegie Mellon University Study showed that mindful meditation helped reduce Interleukin-6, an inflammatory health biomarker, in stressed, unemployed adults.13

References   [ + ]

1. Depression Statistics, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
2. Mental Health Basics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
3. Miller, Andrew H., and Charles L. Raison. “The role of inflammation in depression: from evolutionary imperative to modern treatment target.” Nature Reviews Immunology 16, no. 1 (2016): 22-34.
4. Hoen, Petra, Nina Kupper, and Peter de Jonge. “Depression and cardiovascular disease progression: epidemiology, mechanisms and treatment.” In Stress and Cardiovascular Disease, pp. 211-233. Springer London, 2011.
5. What causes depression? Harvard Health Publication.
6. Zunszain, Patricia A., Nilay Hepgul, and Carmine M. Pariante. “Inflammation and depression.” In Behavioral Neurobiology of Depression and Its Treatment, pp. 135-151. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2012.
7. Berk, Michael, Lana J. Williams, Felice N. Jacka, Adrienne O’Neil, Julie A. Pasco, Steven Moylan, Nicholas B. Allen et al. “So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from?.” BMC medicine 11, no. 1 (2013): 1.
8. Pasco, Julie A., Geoffrey C. Nicholson, Lana J. Williams, Felice N. Jacka, Margaret J. Henry, Mark A. Kotowicz, Hans G. Schneider, Brian E. Leonard, and Michael Berk. “Association of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein with de novo major depression.” The British Journal of Psychiatry 197, no. 5 (2010): 372-377.
9. Reichenberg, Abraham, Raz Yirmiya, Andreas Schuld, Thomas Kraus, Monika Haack, Abraham Morag, and Thomas Pollmächer. “Cytokine-associated emotional and cognitive disturbances in humans.” Archives of general psychiatry 58, no. 5 (2001): 445-452.
10. Dowlati, Yekta, Nathan Herrmann, Walter Swardfager, Helena Liu, Lauren Sham, Elyse K. Reim, and Krista L. Lanctôt. “A meta-analysis of cytokines in major depression.” Biological psychiatry 67, no. 5 (2010): 446-457.
11. Udina, Marc, Pere Castellví, José Moreno-España, Ricard Navinés, Manuel Valdés, Xavier Forns, Klaus Langohr, Ricard Solà, Eduard Vieta, and Rocío Martín-Santos. “Interferon-induced depression in chronic hepatitis C: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” The Journal of clinical psychiatry 73, no. 8 (2012): 1-478.
12. Hannestad, Jonas, Nicole DellaGioia, and Michael Bloch. “The effect of antidepressant medication treatment on serum levels of inflammatory cytokines: a meta-analysis.” Neuropsychopharmacology 36, no. 12 (2011): 2452-2459.
13. Creswell, J. David, Adrienne A. Taren, Emily K. Lindsay, Carol M. Greco, Peter J. Gianaros, April Fairgrieve, Anna L. Marsland et al. “Alterations in Resting-State Functional Connectivity Link Mindfulness Meditation With Reduced Interleukin-6: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Biological Psychiatry (2016).
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.