Depression and the link with inflammation

Posted by: jo | Tuesday 18th October 2016

A new paper has just been published suggesting that it may be possible to predict which patients suffering from depression will respond to conventional antidepressants by looking at markers of inflammation in their blood. It was found that patients with high levels of inflammation do not respond to conventional antidepressants.

This is a significant breakthrough and highlights what scientific research has been suggesting for a number of years that depression itself can be a symptom of biological changes in the body that are driven by inflammation rather than simply changes in brain chemistry. It is considered more appropriate in these cases to address the body’s inflammation rather than using a drug to raise serotonin levels.


Acute inflammation is an essential part of the body’s immune system in dealing with infections and injury, however, chronic long-term inflammation can result in a number of health conditions including obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease. Chronic inflammation can be the result of a number of factors including: long term stress; auto-immune conditions; allergies or the inability of the inflammatory process to switch itself off. External factors can include nutrition and lifestyle. One of the makers used in this study to determine levels of inflammation in the body was a cytokine. A cytokine is a molecule that aids in cell to cell communication in immune responses and stimulates the movement of cells towards sites of inflammation, infection and trauma. Interestingly, one of the specific cytokine’s looked at in this study and seen raised in patients who reported symptoms of depression was cytokine IL – 1 beta which is also seen to be elevated in patients suffering from chronic conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The powerful connection which presents itself here is that high levels of unresolved chronic inflammation are seen to be drivers in all of these chronic diseases.


Given the impact of cytokines on the neurotransmitter systems that regulate the functional activity of mood in the brain, it is no surprise that neuroimaging studies have revealed cytokine-induced alterations in regional brain activity. Consistent with our knowledge of the partnership between the brain and the immune system, primary cytokines are involved in those brain regions that regulate motivation and motor activity (promoting social avoidance and energy conservation) as well as arousal, anxiety and alarm (promoting hyper vigilance and protection against attack). Dopamine has a fundamental role in motivation and motor activity, and cytokines have been shown to decrease the release of dopamine in the brain in association with decreased effort-based motivation as well as reduced activation of reward.


It is exciting to see that more and more clinical trials are being conducted to understand the underlying cause of disease rather than just treating the symptoms. Modern medicine is moving in the right direction. We are moving into an era of personalised medicine and becoming more aware that the name of a disease will tell us nothing about its root cause.

Depression is simply a name given to a collection of symptoms. Now we understand that these symptoms can be caused by underlying inflammation, rather than just suppressing the symptoms with drugs we can use nutritional and lifestyle interventions to make a huge difference to instigate self-healing mechanisms.


The basis for reducing inflammation in the body and so lifting mood has long been associated with eating a wholesome, nutrient dense diet full of colourful vegetables and fruits, good fats such as olive oil, avocados and nuts, and lean proteins such as oily fish, beans and eggs. Avoiding excessive meat, diary, trans fats, sugar and alcohol is essential too.

8 top tips for eating an anti-inflammatory diet

  1. Eat a minimum of 5 portions of vegetables and 2 portions of fruit per day.
  2. Minimize trans fats found in processed food such as biscuits, cakes, ready meals and fast food
  3. Eat a good source of omega-3 fatty acids every day, such as oily fish (or fish oil supplements), walnuts, grass fed butter and chia seeds.
  4. Watch your intake of refined carbohydrates such as pasta and white rice and beware of hidden sugars in food
  5. Eat plenty of whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and bulgur wheat.
  6. Eat lean protein sources such as chicken; cut back on red meat and full-fat dairy foods.
  7. Avoid refined foods and heavily processed foods.
  8. Spice up your food by adding ginger, turmeric, onion and garlic to as many of your meals as possible.


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"Sometimes we forget how good our body can feel. Simply identifying a nutritional imbalance or deficiency can help you achieve optimal health and peak performance.

From private consultations and employee wellness, to brand positioning and cleanse programmes, I use the latest in evidence-based nutritional science to design bespoke diet and lifestyle programmes just for you." - Jo Wright Dip NT


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