Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Depressed! Incensed! Inflamed!

My buddy J sent me an article about the link between inflammation and depression. The article is pretty revolutionary for me. The article over on Feel Guide, New Research Discovers That Depression Is An Allergic Reaction To Inflammation points to, well, you can probably tell by the title of the article. They kind of let the cat out of the bag while announcing, "We're letting this cat out of this bag!"

The article also re-directs to the following articles:

Depression May Be Caused by Inflammation over on Nova. Nova's Tim De Chant
 starts by contextualizing inflammation and depression.
Inflammation is our immune system’s natural response to injuries, infections, or foreign compounds. When triggered, the body pumps various cells and proteins to the site through the blood stream, including cytokines, a class of proteins that facilitate inter-cellular communication. It also happens that people suffering from depression are loaded with cytokines. Which has some scientists thinking that depression may be a side effect of inflammation.
Is Your Diet Making You Anxious or Depressed? over at Kripalu points to inflammation as a key ingredient to well-being, and fingers processed food as a major culprit to said inflammation and anxiety.

The thesis is simple: Everyone feels like shit when they're sick. That ennui we feel when we're unwell—listlessness, lack of enthusiasm, troubled sleep, tearfulness, and a general feeling of wading through tar—is apparently known among psychologists as "sickness behavior." Our bodies are pretty intelligent, see—they behave this way so that we stop, lie still, and let our system fight whatever infection of virus has us croaking for Gatorade on the couch. 
These kinds of emotional responses are also typical of depression, though. So, scientists are asking: If sick people feel and act a lot like depressed people, might there be a link?
The majority of the heavy lifting was done by Caroline Williams in Is depression a kind of allergic reaction? over at The Guardian UK. She quotes George Slavich, a clinical psychologist at the University of California in Los Angeles early on:
"I don’t even talk about it as a psychiatric condition any more,” he says. “It does involve psychology, but it also involves equal parts of biology and physical health.”
This could absolutely change the way depression is treated. The following bit was especially poignant for me:
Add this to the fact that stress, particularly the kind that follows social rejection or loneliness, also causes inflammation, and it starts to look as if depression is a kind of allergy to modern life – which might explain its spiralling prevalence all over the world as we increasingly eat, sloth and isolate ourselves into a state of chronic inflammation.
I've often thought of depression as an allergy to modern life.  Especially when paired with anxiety. It seems generations are increasingly depressed and anxious. This is no doubt correlated to something.

Though some in these articles focus on inflammation as a body-based reaction, there's still the issue of diet that can't be ignored:
A diet rich in trans fats and sugar has been shown to promote inflammation, while a healthy one full of fruit, veg and oily fish helps keep it at bay. Obesity is another risk factor, probably because body fat, particularly around the belly, stores large quantities of cytokines.
This speaks to me, my being fat, and my less than stellar diet. It doesn't paint a whole picture though. I've also gone through period of being very healthy and being terribly depressed.
The good news is that the few clinical trials done so far have found that adding anti-inflammatory medicines to antidepressants not only improves symptoms, it also increases the proportion of people who respond to treatment, although more trials will be needed to confirm this. There is also some evidence that omega 3and curcumin, an extract of the spice turmeric, might have similar effects. Both are available over the counter and might be worth a try, although as an add-on to any prescribed treatment – there’s definitely not enough evidence to use them as a replacement.
This will be interesting to discuss with my Dr. I'm going to mail him a copy of the article (snail mail because he's at a weird old-school office! What fun!).

I think the most promising bit of all this (other than my projecting to a future where I'm not in so much psychological pain) is that Carine Pariante, a psychiatrist from Kings College London estimates we're 5 to 10 years away from a blood test that could measure inflammation in depressed folks. This could help so many people, so easily.

There's more to it, we'll know more eventually - if there's such thing as a cure, does it make it easier to hang on? I think so.

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