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Is depression an inflammatory disease?

Surprising observations suggest that anti-inflammatory drugs dramatically improve the treatment of depression. A look at a discovery that could revolutionize the treatment of this disease.

There are still many prejudices against mood disorders such as depression. While it is easy to empathize with a person showing outward signs of illness (fever, injury, fracture), it is sometimes more difficult to understand the severity of disorders that specifically affect a person’s brain with no apparent physics.

We sometimes hear from a person suffering from depression “that they just need to change their mind” or that they use their situation to “take a few weeks vacation” as if it were an imaginary illness which one can easily get along with confront a little benevolence.

However, depression is a true mental illness caused by an imbalance in the levels of certain neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin and dopamine.

These molecules carry information from one neuron to another and play a very important role in a variety of mental processes such as attention, appetite, mood and motivation.

” The Depression ”

An imbalance in these neurotransmitters often leads to feelings of worthlessness or guilt, disinterest in the outside world, sleep or appetite disorders, lack of energy and, in the worst case, to pathological or suicidal thoughts in depressed people.

Chronic inflammation triggers depression

Although the factors responsible for the development of depression are still poorly understood, some recent observations suggest that chronic inflammation may act as a trigger. A good example is studies of people suffering from hepatitis: these patients are often treated with interferon, a drug that produces a powerful inflammatory response that helps eliminate the virus responsible for the infection. This treatment is very effective, however, scientists have observed a major side effect: between 30 and 40% of people treated develop major depression, as if the sudden inflammation triggered by the interferon reaches the brain and disrupts the normal functioning of the neurons.

The existence of a link between inflammation and depression is also suggested by studies showing that depressed people have a higher risk of being affected by heart disease or type 2 diabetes, two diseases that are known to have a strong inflammatory component have component.

Reduce inflammation to evade depression

The contribution of inflammation to the development of depression suggests that the use of anti-inflammatory drugs could represent a new approach to treating the condition.

And the results are very encouraging: A detailed analysis of a dozen studies involving more than 6,000 people with depression shows that the addition of anti-inflammatory drugs to commonly used clinical antidepressants dramatically (270%) increased the rate of positive responses to treatment, without significant causes side effects.

This is a very important observation as many depressed patients respond poorly to currently available antidepressants and very few new treatments have been developed in recent years. This adds depression to the long list of diseases caused by chronic inflammation, be it heart disease, type 2 diabetes or many types of cancer. Like all cells in the body, brain neuron function is highly dependent on the biochemical environment of brain tissue, and creating an inflammatory climate can only have a negative impact on psychological functioning.

This contribution of inflammation also explains why a healthy diet and regular exercise, two simple and effective ways to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, also improve mood and reduce the frequency and intensity of depressive episodes. As we often say, a healthy mind in a healthy body!


Koehler O et al. Effect of anti-inflammatory treatment on depression, depressive symptoms, and side effects: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. JAMA Psychiatry; 71:1381-91.

See also: Depression: Healing with probiotics

* Presse Santé strives to convey health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace the advice of a doctor.

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