There has been increasing evidence that inflammation may also be associated with brain diseases, such as mental illness like depression.
Depression is an incredibly common problem, and one which affects as many as 350 million persons globally. The condition may arise due to traumatic life events, or may appear with little or no cause. Regardless, it is a problem that tends to be chronic, waxing and waning and continuing in some form throughout life.
Given its prevalence, one would think that the condition would be well understood. However, it really is not. It is most often considered a brain disturbance, and treated in a manner that requires trial-and-error medication, counseling, and therapy.
While perseverance often results in abatement of symptoms, it is clear that a more unified approach is needed – one that is based on a more thorough understanding of the disease.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation, simply put, is how the body responds to infection, disease, or injury. Moreover, it is a physiological response to a negative condition.
During this process, cells and proteins are initiated to handle the problem. Once they have completed their job, they are immobilized. But when inflammation is not adequately under control (driven by over-activity of the immune system), it can lead to disease and damage, such as arthritis. This is where anti-inflammatory drugs come in.
Depression and Inflammation
Many experts believe that depression is a type of inflammatory disease. Evidence for this? Well, many people with inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and psoriasis also tend to suffer from depression.
When treated with anti-inflammatory medication, the result is often an improvement in both the physical and mental condition. This may suggest that body inflammation is also affecting mental health.
However, I would be quick to point out that if one were depressed, at least in part due to an illness, it stands to reason that cessation of that illness would also result in a decrease in depression.
But according to researchers, some persons with depression and no other outward signs of disease exhibited increased blood marker levels of inflammation, as well.
So What are the Implications?
This evidence has prompted experts to view depression in an alternate way. Moreover, as a disease of the entire person, one in which symptoms are primarily evident in the brain. Also, one in which treatments that target body inflammation might also soothe mental health problems.
It is most likely, however, that inflammation itself does not always cause depression. Inflammation is present in different manners, each of which may call for different treatments.
To further the evidential field, the next step is to identify which patients with depression also suffer from inflammation (and what type) as an underlying cause.
A United Kingdom group known as Neuroimmunology of Mood Disorders and Alzheimer’s Disease (NIMA) has banded together to determine if mood disorders and neurodegenerative diseases can be simultaneously treated by targeting the immune system.
The first ongoing stage of NIMA’s research involves the development of blood and brain imaging tests that can determine which persons with depression also have whole-body and brain inflammation.
The final blood test will analyze markers of blood inflammation and provide information to the clinician about the presence of inflammation, as well as what type of inflammation is present. Finally, the clinician will be better suited to selecting an effective anti inflammatory medication.
One of the best results of this research may come form current medicine and associated expenses. That is, in many cases, brand new drug development may not be needed.
Currently, many anti inflammatory drugs are being tested, but are not currently available.These drugs could henceforth be selected, tested, and confirmed, and utilized in clinical trials dealing with specifically selected diseases.
This shift in thinking is not radical, but significant. It reveals that it may not be that we simply feel down on ourselves when we are sick, but that the chemical reactions involved with inflammation may be directly affecting our feelings and mood.
Depression is one of the most difficult mental illnesses to treat, but using a medication that resolves this problem in addition to underlying inflammatory disease is ideal. There is much to be done, but eventually researchers may be able to determine which drugs can effectively treat types of inflammation in both the mind and body.
Ultimately, anti inflammatory drugs could help replace antidepressants, which are known to have a host of side effects that are undesirable. They also may require a difficult weaning process, if the patient one day wishes to stop using them. And finally, they may be dangerous when combined with other central nervous system depressants, such as opioids, benzodiazepines, and other sedatives.