inflammation health issues depression

Photo: max-kegfire/istockphoto

1 of 6
More Than the Blues

The health issue: Depression

What inflammation has to do with it: Some experts believe that, in certain cases, inflammation can trigger depression and specific symptoms that go along with it. Jennifer Felger, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, is one such expert. She and her colleagues published a review this summer showing that inflammation may lead to low dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine helps drive your brain's reward system, which explains why people with depression often lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, says Felger. Plus, at least two longitudinal studies (meaning, the researchers examined subjects over a number of years, not just at one point in time) showed that people with higher levels of inflammation but no depression at the beginning of the study were more likely to develop depressive symptoms later on. There's also some evidence that inflammation can make existing depression worse, "like throwing gasoline on a fire," as explained by the researchers behind a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

What you can do: Though this research is eye-opening, it's still evolving, so, "generally, psychiatrists aren't testing for inflammation and basing their depression recommendations around it yet," says Felger. That said, at some academic centers, including Emory's treatment-resistant depression program, experts are doing research on inflammation and depression to inform their treatment in the future. Her recommendations in the meantime: work with your doctor to find the best treatment plan for you, and try to manage your everyday stress and keep your weight at a healthy level, since both sky-high stress and extra pounds are known to increase inflammation.