The brain is still one of the least understood parts of the human body, and as such, mental health remains a major point of scientific interest. Studies surrounding depression and its causes have pointed to a possible relationship between inflammation and the development of depression. In this article, we’ll go over some of the points that indicate this relationship, and what it might mean for the treatment of depression.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is part of the process the body uses to fight off infections and other harmful invaders like viruses. Very basically, it means that the immune system is using proteins, cytokines, and white blood cells to mark places in the body that need healing. It can be marked by measuring the presence of the C-reactive protein (CRP). Inflammation causes physical symptoms including weakness, fatigue, and general signs of illness. There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is caused by a specific trauma or injury and lasts anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, can last for years.
What Causes Inflammation?
Inflammation can be caused by both physical and mental stressors. Environmental factors have also been shown to have an influence. Things like abuse, poverty, and emotional trauma can essentially cause wires to get crossed in the brain. The emotional stress is mistaken for a physical one which the body then tries to fight off. It then uses inflammation to achieve that. If the environmental triggers surround the patient in the long-term, this can develop into chronic inflammation.
Chronic Inflammation and Depression
Because of its short effect on the body, acute inflammation is not thought to affect the development of depression. However, studies have shown that patients with elevated CRP levels have an increased chance of being diagnosed with depression in the next five years. Elevated CRP levels are commonly associated with chronic inflammation. Over time, chronic inflammation can contribute to tissues in the body breaking down which leads to pain, fatigue, and general weakness. Symptoms like this may also contribute to the development of depression.
Depression and Autoimmune Disorders
Chronic inflammation and related illnesses fall into a category called autoimmune disorders. Essentially this means that the immune system is malfunctioning and attacking the body instead of attacking foreign pathogens like parasites and viruses.
There are a few reasons experts believe that people with autoimmune disorders are at a higher risk for developing depression. First is the physical breakdown of the body which may affect brain chemistry and hormone levels significantly. The other, perhaps less obvious, the reason is the effect of autoimmune disorders on a patient’s quality of life. Conditions like chronic inflammation can be incredibly painful and can seriously limit mobility. This can have a huge effect on mobility and lifestyle. Activities like exercise, which is known to release endorphins, may no longer be possible. Lower quality of life can be a major risk factor when it comes to mental health.
Future Research and Treatment
The relationship between depression and chronic inflammation still needs a lot of further investigation. Current research is just getting started, and we still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding exactly what causes depression and how to prevent or treat it. Right now, there are studies on targeting autoimmune markers to inhibit them or block their communication with the brain, to treat depression.
Depression is a complex issue with no one-size-fits-all treatment. Ongoing research is a necessity to develop a more in-depth understanding of it. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, talk to TMS Advantage about getting help. Depression is a serious medical condition and should never be ignored, no matter how mild it may seem.
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