Severe depression linked with inflammation in the brain.
Clinical depression is associated with a 30% increase of inflammation in the brain, according to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry.
Inflammation is the immune system’s natural response to infection or disease. The body often uses inflammation to protect itself, such as when an ankle is sprained and becomes inflamed, and the same principle also applies to the brain. However, too much inflammation is unhelpful and can be damaging.
Increasingly, evidence is suggesting that inflammation may drive some depressive symptoms, such as low mood, loss of appetite and reduced ability to sleep.
What the new study set out to investigate was whether inflammation is a driver of clinical depression independent of other physical illness.
Researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s (CAMH) Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute in Toronto, Canada, used positron emission tomography (PET) to scan the brains of 20 patients with depression and 20 healthy control participants.
In particular, the team closely measured the activation of microglia – immune cells that play a key role in the brain’s inflammatory response.
The PET scans showed significant inflammation in the brains of the people with depression, and the inflammation was most severe among the participants with the most severe depression. The brains of people who were experiencing clinical depression exhibited an inflammatory increase of 30%.
Previous studies have examined markers of inflammation in the blood of depressed people, in an attempt to solve the “chicken or egg” debate of whether inflammation is a consequence of or contributor to major depression.
For instance, in 2012, a study conducted by Duke University Medical Center researchers and published in Biological Psychiatryfound an association between the number of cumulative depressive episodes experienced by study participants and increased levels of an inflammation marker in their blood called C-reactive protein (CRP).
“Our results support a pathway from childhood depression to increased levels of CRP, even after accounting for other health-related behaviors that are known to influence inflammation. We found no support for the pathway from CRP to increased risk for depression,” said Duke study leader Dr. William Copeland.
The Duke team concluded that depression, therefore, is more likely to contribute to inflammation in the body as opposed to arising as a consequence of inflammation.
Medical News Today did not have access to data on whether the patients in the CAMH study exhibited brain inflammation prior to developing depression or after symptom onset. However, the CAMH researchers claim that their study is the first to find definitive evidence of inflammation in the brains of depressed patients.
Should future depression therapies target inflammation?
“This finding provides the most compelling evidence to date of brain inflammation during a major depressive episode,” says senior author Dr. Jeffrey Meyer, who holds a Canada Research Chair in the neurochemistry of major depression. He adds:
“This discovery has important implications for developing new treatments for a significant group of people who suffer from depression. It provides a potential new target to either reverse the brain inflammation or shift to a more positive repair role, with the idea that it would alleviate symptoms.”
Severe depression affects 4% of the general population. However, more than half of people with major depression do not respond to antidepressants. Dr. Meyer suggests that future studies should investigate the possible impact of anti-inflammatory drugs on depression symptoms.
“Depression is a complex illness and we know that it takes more than one biological change to tip someone into an episode,” says Dr. Meyer. “But we now believe that inflammation in the brain is one of these changes and that’s an important step forward.”
Written by David McNamee
Mood disorders, or affective disorders, are mental health problems such as depression, bipolar disorder, and mania. Mood disorders can occur in anyone, including children. The cause of mood disorders is not fully understood, but an imbalance in brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters is likely to play a role. Sometimes mood disorders may be related to a medical condition, substance abuse, life events, or other causes.
The most common types of mood disorders include major depression, dysthymic disorder (milder depressive disorder), and bipolar disorder, in which alternating episodes of depression and mania (elevated mood) occur in the same individual. It is normal for your mood to change, and most people go through times of feeling sad. When these feelings last for a very long time or interfere with your life, however, you may have a mood disorder.
Ayurvedic and homeopathic therapies have the potential to improve symptoms of depression, although larger controlled trials are needed. Mindbodyspirit and integrative medicine approaches can be used effectively in mild to moderate depression and in treatmentresistant depression.
In the last decade, medical science has discovered something already well known within many cultures: meditation can be a potent part of any holistic healing program for people with bipolar disorder.
A serious and complicated psychological and emotional disease, bipolar disorder sufferers are going through much more than just “mood swings.” The shifts from “mania” to “depression” are dramatic and make it difficult to live a normal life. Here are 5 reasons meditation can neutralize bipolar disorder.
1. Meditation equalizes everything, including unbalanced moods. Bipolar patients who introduce meditation to their daily routine see a greater sense of peace and a leveling of their moods for at least several hours after each meditation session. Eventually, meditation leads to an overall higher state of mental awareness all the time, never getting too high or too low, constantly maintaining a well balanced, yet advanced state of mind.
2. Meditation boosts the very same neurotransmitters that bipolar medications do. Insufficient serotonin, dopamine, & GABA, all super important brain chemicals, greatly impact mood & overall mental health. It may come as no surprise that bipolar medications, SSRIs, work to increase all of these mood elevating chemicals. No need to pop a pill when meditation will normalize all of the above.
3. Meditation makes you a witness to your thoughts. The fluctuations of the mind do not emotionally affect those while in a state of meditation, nor while outside of meditation — for the skilled practitioner. Once the meditator’s mind becomes naturally detached, in a healthy and good way, he/she does not attach to any particular state, whether high or low. Meditation puts you in the driver seat of your mind.
4. Meditation activates the brain’s CEO: the prefrontal cortex. You can think of the prefrontal cortex as the control center of the brain, with executive functions such as knowing right from wrong, good and bad, outcome of actions, and overall orchestration of thoughts. Of particular significance, this brain region has a major affect on personality disorders, namely depression. Studies conclude that meditation healthfully boosts this brain region, effectively smoothing out the manic, while deactivating the depression.
5. Meditation can bring a normal life to a bipolar sufferer. Once the practice of meditation becomes habitual, the bipolar patient will develop an internal set of skills, such as moving from a state of confusion and anxiety to one of peace and inner calm. Meditation may be the closest thing to a cure for bipolar disorder, leaving an ordinary life within reach.
In all cases, meditation brings tremendous benefit to the bipolar patient, and can be used along with prescriptions or other therapies — at no risk.