Depression is a common but serious mood disorder that causes severe symptoms that affect how a person feels, thinks and handles daily activities such as sleeping, eating or working. Symptoms must be present for two weeks in order to be diagnosed with depression. Current treatments predominantly focus on brain chemicals such as serotonin. However, scientists now think inflammation throughout the entire body, triggered by an overactive immune system, may be the root cause of the problem.
In fact, it has been suggested that widespread inflammation could be what's causing and producing feelings of unhappiness, hopelessness and fatigue. If this be the case, then depression can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs. In the case of chronic depression, it's a possibility that the immune system may be failing to switch off after an illness or trauma, leading to persistent symptoms.
Furthermore, a growing body of research, including scientific papers and results from clinical trials say that there appears to be a revealing connection between treating inflammation and alleviating depression. In July 2017, Stanford researchers revealed that they could create a diagnostic laboratory test for myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, along with what may be a world-first treatment.
In October 2016, a major review of research on the next generation anti-inflammatory drugs, which are most often used to treat autoimmune disorders, revealed a definitive link between inflammation and depression. This link could present a new form of treatment. Furthermore, it was discovered that about one third of people with depression have higher levels of cytokines - proteins that control the way the immune system reacts. This could indicate inflammation in their brains. It also revealed that people with overactive immune systems are more likely to develop depression.
Furthermore, at the University of Cambridge, Head of the Department of Psychiatry Professor Ed Bullmore told The Telegraph that he thinks a new field of 'immuno-neurology' is coming soon. In fact, he believes that it is pretty clear that inflammation can cause depression. He also states that “in relation to mood, beyond reasonable doubt, there is a very robust association between inflammation and depressive symptoms. The question is does the inflammation drive the depression or vice versa or is it just a coincidence? In experimental medicine studies if you treat a healthy individual with an inflammatory drug, like interferon, a substantial percentage of those people will become depressed. So we think there is good enough evidence for a causal effect.”
As a result of this work, one important finding would be more effective treatments for depression, treatments that may not need to be lifelong. In addition, should this knowledge shape the norm for understanding and treating depression, the artificial dichotomy between the body and mind could be altered, whereby, viewing depression as a condition with a definite physical cause could help reduce the stigma around mental illness that often prevents many from getting treatment.
Discover more about the science of depression in this video: