Depressed Man

Chronic Inflammation: Could be a source of feeling depressed.

Updated 10-3-14: Please see additional information in a more recent blog, Trust Your Gut, Heal Your Gut: A Personal Story. 

Emerging evidence demonstrates that there is a connection between inflammation and depression.  It’s no wonder that when your body is always in a state of inflammation, you may feel sad.  And the science shows that it may not be just the fact that you are sad because you are experiencing limited function……it might just be the ongoing physiology in your body. Other disease processes may be caused by inflammation, as well…..cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity, to name a few.

A review article presents the science of stress and depression (Littrell 2012).

  • Stress decreases immune function, activating monocytes and macrophages that release inflammatory cytokines.
  • Studies have shown that those induced by stress show signs of depression, correlated with high levels of inflammatory cytokines.
  • Animal and human studies show that if you infuse the body with inflammatory cytokines, they present with signs of depression.
  • Depression reflects an inflammatory state in the brain (brain-derived neurotrophic factor is likely involved). An inflammatory state in the brain can be induced by inflammatory cytokines in the periphery or by psychological stressors.
  • Psychosocial stress and depression contribute to a greater risk for infection, prolonged infectious episodes, and delayed wound healing, all processes that can fuel pro-inflammatory cytokine production. However, stress and depression can also directly provoke pro-inflammatory cytokine production in the absence of infection or injury (Kiecolt-Glaser 2010).

So what can we do?

Stress reduction would seem obvious, seeing that stress induces the inflammatory process.

  • Yoga and meditation have been studied to assess their role in decreasing systemic inflammation. There was a study done to compare markers of inflammation in novice and experienced yoga practitioners to assess the potential of yoga’s stress-reduction benefits. Across a battery of inflammatory assays, 60% of novices produced higher levels of inflammatory markers compared to 24% of experts at baseline levels.  And 40% of experts produced low levels of inflammatory products compared to 0% of novices (Kiecolt-Glaser 2010)
  • We know the science behind diaphragmatic breathing and it’s ability to regulate the autonomic nervous system (ANS) by way of its proximity to the vagus nerve, as well as the sympathetic chain.  And we are capable of teaching awareness or “mindfulness” of the bodies’ physiological responses (muscular tension, rapid breath, actions/reactions). The practice of controlled breath acts to down-regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration (Sengupta 2012).

Diet is another way we can alter the inflammation in our bodies.

  • Diets that promote inflammation are high in refined starches, sugar, saturated and trans-fats, and low in omega-3 fatty acids, natural antioxidants and fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (Kiecolt-Glaser 2010).
  • Higher fruit and vegetable intake are associated with lower oxidative stress and inflammatory pathways in the body. Refined sugars and starches can rapidly alter blood glucose levels. This postprandial hyperglycemia can increase production of free radicals as well as pro-inflammatory cytokines (Kiecolt-Glaser 2010).
  • Studies have shown that nutraceuticals can affect the inflammatory process in the body. Turmeric (or curcumin), ginger and cinnamon have been shown to alter the inflammatory pathways (Aggarwal 2010). Added 12-30-14: Please also see this recent article on using curcumin 500mg x 2/day for helping with depression (Goel Nov 2014, “Can Curcumin Solve Depression” Click Here for the Article)
  • Other spice nutraceuticals may also have an affect on obesity and insulin resistance by way of their effect on inflammatory pathways. They suggest this because of the similar structural homology hat exists between curcumin, capsaicin (red chili), piperine (black pepper), eugenol (cloves), cinnamaldehyde (cinnamon), and gingerol (ginger).  These spice-derived nutraceuticals have been shown to inhibit oxidation of low-denisty lipoproteins (LDL), demonstrating anti-oxidant properties (Aggarwal 2010).
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), particularly ratios of omega-3 (n-3) to omega-6 (n-6) fatty acids, have also been shown to have influence on the inflammatory processes in the body. Omega 3 PUFAs can be found in Flaxseed (oils, seeds), Fish (salmon), Chia seeds, Walnuts, Basil, Oregano, Cloves, or by supplements. spices

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

In summation: Persistent stress, trauma and/or pain can cause chornic inflammation.  If you have chronic inflammation in the body, you may be succeptible to depression. When you are depressed you may change your activity levels (less) and eating habits (poor), thus leading to more inflammation and added depression.  Probably solution: be mindful about what you eat and try to add more activities that get you moving and your blood pumping. I may be partial to yoga but other activities done mindfully are all good too!

I welcome your comments and hope that if you find this helpful, you will share it with your colleagues and friends. Contact Tianna to see how she can help you with your health.

Added 8/22/14: Please see my post on my personal experience with sadness and fatigue due to systemic inflammation, follow this LINK.

Added Oct 2014: Also see my series on inflammation HERE, HERE and HERE. Lots of info on what inflammation is, where NSAIDS fit in, how you can change it or cause it by lifestyle and die

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Find out why you should be concerned about chronic inflammation, how it causes lasting pain, perhaps depression and how you can make positive changes just by changing a few things in your life. Hint: it’s not the same for everyone! Anti-inflammatory Shopping list and Recipes included.

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  1. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. (2010). Stress, food, and inflammation: Psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition at the cutting edge. Psychosom Med72(4), 365–369. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181dbf489.
  2. Kiecolt-Glaser, J., Christian, L., Preston, H., Houts, C., Malarkey, W., Emery, C., Glaser, R., & , (2010). Stress, inflammation, and yoga practice. Psychosom Med.72(2), 113. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181cb9377.
  3. Kiecolt-Glaser, J., Belury, M., Belury, R., Belury, W., & Glaser, R. (2011). Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: A randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun25(8), 1725–1734. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2011.07.229.
  4. Littrell, J. (2012). Taking the perspective that a depressive state reflects inflammation: implications for the use of antidepressants. Frontiers in Psychology,3(297), 1-18. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.0029.
  5. Sengupta, P. (2012). Health impacts of yoga and pranayama: A state-of-the-art review. Int J Prev Med3(7), 444–458.

Top Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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