Depression – Is Brain Inflammation to Blame?

March 9, 2015

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When your body is injured or infected the natural response is for inflammation to set in. Inflammation is a helpful response that the body uses to protect the organ, bone, tissue or muscle that has been damaged or attacked in some way.

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The inflammation allows the body to heal. In some cases inflammation is not such a great thing. In cases of severe depression there can be up to a 30% increase in inflammation of the brain. Of course the question than has to be asked is the inflammation triggered by the depression, or is the depression triggered by the inflammation? Some researchers like to refer to this as the which came first the chicken or the egg question.

The research is still relatively new when it comes to looking at inflammation as one of the possible causes of clinical depression. Depression is a complex response that likely has several factors that come together to trigger the episode.

Whether it is a result of or a cause of depression brain inflammation is evident in people that are depressed and addressing the inflammation may help to alleviate the symptoms.

A Duke Medical study looked at the relationship between brain inflammation and depression and summarized the following:

“Our results support a pathway from childhood depression to increased levels of CRP, even after accounting for other health-related behaviors that are known to influence inflammation. We found no support for the pathway from CRP to increased risk for depression,” said Duke study leader Dr. William Copeland. CRP in this case means C-Level Proteins, which have been associated with higher risk for depression.

Of course there are unanswered questions of this study like was the inflammation present before the episodes, were only the blood markers considered, were there PET scans done and compared? The study at CAMH did look at PET scans of 20 participants that were suffering with clinical depression and compared them to a control group of 20 that had no health issues and the findings were in fact that inflammation of the brain and depression was linked.

Treatment Protocol:

Given this information regarding brain inflammation and depression should there be a protocol developed that includes an anti inflammatory as part of the treatment therapy? Could adding an anti inflammatory help to reduce the symptoms of depression?

Further research is planned to look at the effects that an anti inflammatory drug would have on the depression system with the hopes of improving the results of drug therapies.

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