What if depression was just a side effect of inflammation in the body? What if we felt emotionally crappy simply because our body was also down in the dumps?
Some experts are suggesting that depression could just be a reaction to higher levels of inflammation in the body, and that it’s not just a psychological condition.
For example, researchers who published a study in October 2014 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that children who had higher levels of inflammation at 9 years old were more likely to have depression when they turned 18 years old.
Researchers used data from a longitudinal study based in Avon County, England. There were about 4,500 participants.
Researchers measured levels of interleukin 6 (IL-6) and C-reactive protein (CRP), since these are considered inflammatory markers in the body.
Those children who had higher levels of IL-6 were more likely to have depression and psychotic experiences, according to the study.
Dr. Angelos Halaris, a psychiatrist at Loyola University Medical Center, agrees that there is a link between depression and inflammation.
“When the person feels stressed, and even if the person denies to themselves that they are stressed, the immune system goes on hyper alert and becomes activated in an effort to protect the individual from the potentially deleterious effects of stress,” Halaris said in an email.
“One of the weapons of the immune system is to instigate an immune response known as inflammation,” he added. “We know now inflammation occurs in the brain and the rest of the body. “
As part of the inflammation process, proteins called cytokines are released and interfere with the healthy functioning of neurotransmitters, especially serotonin, which can lead to a deficiency in the brain.
This deficiency can lead to depression.
“If inflammation persists, certain chemicals in the brain are produced in excessive amounts and can poison, indeed destroy, nerve cells while at the same aggravating depression and leading to suicidality,” Halaris said.