Depression linked to inflammation
Depression is often thought to be linked to low levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. But increasing evidence suggests that depression may also be linked to chronic inflammation in the body. It’s well documented that inflammation is an underlying factor in many physical diseases, including cancer and heart disease, and researchers are beginning to gain a greater understanding of its role in mental health as well.
Previous studies have indicated that people who are depressed have higher levels of certain inflammatory markers, including pro-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are small substances released by cells that assist with communication between cells. They activate the body’s immune response in the presence of foreign invaders, such as a virus. The release of cytokines explains why you may feel more depressed when you get a cold or a virus: your cells release cytokines, which communicate with the brain, which then produces more cytokines. These brain cytokines lead to neuroinflammation, which produces symptoms such as fatigue, fever, lack of appetite, difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation, altered sleeping patterns, and depression.
In a 2001 study, people who were given pro-inflammatory cytokines show more symptoms of depression and anxiety. Nearly half of the patients who were given cytokines began experiencing depression within 3 months. Other studies have shown that types of cytokines used to help treat diseases such as cancer or hepatitis C are also associated with high rates of depression. Chronically high levels of inflammation as a result of major illness are also associated with higher rates of depression.
Depression and C-reactive protein
A large-scale study published earlier this year confirmed the link between inflammation and depression. Researchers examined data collected from 14,275 people between 2007 and 2012. They discovered that people who experienced depression had nearly double the level of C-reactive protein, a marker associated with inflammation. C-reactive protein is a substance produced by the liver in response to inflammation, often as a result of infection or long-term disease. Although the study establishes a connection between depression and inflammation, it doesn’t prove the inflammation is the cause of depression. However, efforts to reduce chronic inflammation have been shown to improve and help prevent depression.
How to reduce inflammation
If you are prone to depression, the following steps may help by reducing inflammation throughout the body:
- Reduce overall stress levels. Stress has been shown to contribute to inflammation and cause negative health effects throughout the body. During times of increased stress, make an effort to engage in self-care and other practices that help relieve stress, such as yoga and meditation. Yoga has also been shown to boost natural antioxidants in the body that help fight inflammation.
- Eat more anti-inflammatory foods, such as olives, tomatoes, green vegetables, nuts, berries, and fish.
- Avoid foods that cause inflammation. These include sugar, fried foods, soda, refined carbohydrates, dairy, processed meats, and other processed foods.
- Exercise regularly. Exercising 2-3 times per week has been shown to help decrease age-related inflammation. Even light walking for 2-4 hours a week can help.
- Practice breathing exercises. Calming breathing exercises help reduce stress and have also been shown to reduce inflammation. One study found that just 20 minutes of yogic breathing techniques reduced levels of inflammatory markers.
- Try intermittent fasting or prolonged fasting. Regular fasting has been shown to be a powerful tool against inflammation. Resting the digestive system appears to enable the body to devote energy to other tasks, such as the removal of dead or damaged cells, which can trigger an inflammatory response. Fortunately, it’s not necessary to completely give up food to experience these benefits. Certain calorie-restricted diets can mimic the effects of fasting on the body and produce the same results. The ProLon fasting mimicking diet has been scientifically developed and clinically proven to reduce levels of C-reactive protein and promote other positive health effects on the body, such as increased energy and improved cognitive performance. Learn more about ProLon and find out if it’s right for you!