A new book suggests that depression should be considered an inflammatory illness. That is to say, depression can provoke high levels of stress hormone which cause certain brain cells to stop working properly and to produce proteins that cause inflammation. Inflammation can cause other problems like heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
“When you have multiple or very severe episodes (of depression) there’s actually an inflammatory cascade that is set up in the brain and it can lead to real measurable changes in the brain’s structure and functioning,” says Dr. Diane McIntosh, a psychiatrist and author of the book This is Depression: A Comprehensive Compassionate Guide for Anyone who Wants to Understand Depression.
“We can see in the brains of chronically, severely depressed patients that they have shrinkage of particular brain areas, one called the hippocampus. We can measure that in people who have severe and chronic depression and that’s related to an inflammatory cascade.”
Treatment must be tailor-made, says psychiatrist
McIntosh says there are no specific anti-inflammatory treatments for depression yet and there is much work being done to be more specific in the targeting of depression. However, many current treatments for depression do have an impact on the inflammatory system and neurotransmitters, and they help nourish the brain. Among the treatments are anti-depressants, electro compulsive therapy, and exercise to can have a beneficial effect.
The difficulty is that everyone is different and every treatment needs to be tailor-made for each patient. Things like yoga and mindfulness can also help patients manage their symptoms. McIntosh says there is much trial and error involved in finding the right regimen for each patient.