Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) or clinical depression, is a common mood disorder that can affect anyone. Its most prevalent symptom can include persistent sadness or irritability, loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities, difficulties concentrating and disturbed appetite and sleep habits. It is estimated that one-in-three women and one-in-five men have an episode of major depression by the age of 65. The World Health Organization recently reported that MDD is now the major cause of disability and affects over 300 million people. The conventional drug treatments for depression often fall short of providing effective results.
Researchers are now starting to approach depression as a whole-body problem that requires a whole-body approach to solving it;
“I think we need to think outside the box, which is the brain and the neurons…When you’re stressed, you feel it all over your body, you don’t feel it only in your brain.” — Caroline Ménard, assistant professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Université Laval and CERVO Brain Research
Antidepressants, a standard treatment for most depressive disorders, are designed to modulate the transmission of certain neurotransmitters — serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine — but this only works for some patients, others are resistant to these treatments. The current state of available treatments for depression highlights the clear requirement for a fresh approach, given that most of the treatments are derived from chance discoveries made over 60 years ago.
After an analysis of over 30 studies, comprising of 13,541 depressed patients and 155,728 controls, a study published the Cambridge University Press, concluded that about 25% of patients with depression show evidence of low-grade inflammation, whilst over 50% of patients show mildly elevated CRP levels - a biomarker used to indicate inflammation. There are significant differences in the prevalence of low-grade inflammation between patients and matched healthy controls. These findings suggest that inflammation could be relevant to a large number of patients with depression.
Depression is not an inflammatory disorder and not every patient with depression has increased inflammation. Although a multitude of studies have demonstrated increased mean concentrations of a variety of inflammatory markers in depressed patients. In certain patients, research indicates that depressive behaviours may be driven by the inflammatory process rather than solely by neurotransmitter imbalances.
The biomarker C-reactive protein (CRP) when elevated in the bloodstream can disrupt the body-brain barrier, leading to neuro-inflammation. In the study, CRP was elevated in patients with depression, and even more so in treatment-resistant patients suggesting a crucial link to explore for future approaches to the treatment of depression.
Studies exploring the correlation between inflammation and depression are shedding light on how targeting and treating inflammation can potentially unlock a more precise approach to depression care, offering renewed hope for individuals whose depression is resistant to anti-depressants.
“We’ve come to the tipping point…we know enough at this point to begin to target the immune system and its downstream effects on the brain to treat depression. We are there.” — Andrew H. Miller Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at the Emory University School of Medicine
Further research is being called for to address the need for a new approach to treatment. If inflammation can induce or exacerbate depression and its symptoms, then reducing inflammation could provide, if not a complete remission, maybe a relief for many people with depression.
Chronic inflammation is a persistent, long-term state of inflammation in the body. Unlike acute inflammation, which is a normal response to injury or infection (and settles once the underlying issue is resolved), chronic inflammation can persist for months or even years. It occurs when the immune system triggers an inflammatory response continuously or repeatedly, even when there is no immediate threat or injury.
Understanding inflammation and its effects on the body enables you to take action and improve your overall health now to help you age well into the future. The WellBeing Test is a private blood test that delivers a health report by analysing multiple blood biomarkers. Discover what your blood is telling you and receive actionable insights into the core health areas of energy, sleep, stress, inflammation, fitness and body fat composition.
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