- Depression is a physical illness due to an overactive immune system that causes inflammation.
- When the immune system suspects a threat, it triggers inflammation, leading to changes in the body.
- The link between nerves in the brain and immune function might be the reason for depression to be termed as a physical illness.
Depression, which is usually related to mental health is now claimed to be an inflammatory disease. The scientists who conducted research to come up with this finding also suggest that depression could be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs.
An overactive immune system may trigger the mental health condition by causing widespread inflammation that leads to feelings of hopelessness and unhappiness.
‘Depression is a physical illness due to an overactive immune system that causes inflammation of the nerves in the brain.’
Past research has shown that people who suffer severe emotional trauma have signs of inflammation which suggest their immune system is constantly triggered. The immune system may fail to 'switch off' after an illness or traumatic event.
Professor Ed Bullmore, head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said, "In relation to mood, beyond reasonable doubt, there is a very robust association between inflammation and depressive symptoms."
Immune System Triggers Inflammation
When the immune system suspects a threat, it triggers inflammation, leading to changes in the body, such as increased red blood cell counts, in preparation to heal a wound.
Until recently, such a process was denied as a cause of depression as scientists believed the brain and the immune system operated separately. Yet, recent studies show a link between nerves in the brain and immune function.
In experimental medicine studies if you treat a healthy individual with an inflammatory drug, like interferon, a substantial percentage of those people will become depressed.
Researchers from Cambridge University and the Wellcome Trust are hoping to initiate studies next year investigating anti-inflammatory drugs' efficacy in depression.
Mind- Nervous System-Immune System Are Interlinked
Experts add that the outdated approach of separating mental and physical health conditions is holding back medical advances.
Around 60% of people who visit a doctor with chest pain are actually suffering from anxiety, while approximately 30% of those with conditions such as arthritis have the mental health condition, which is four times high than the population average.
Professor Sir Robert Lechler, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said, "You're not just a little bit miserable if you've got a long-term condition, there is a real mechanistic connection between the mind, the nervous system and the immune system."
Well Known Causes of Depression
For some people, a combination of many factors may be causing clinical depression. For others, a single factor may be triggering the illness. Depression often is related to the following.
Imbalance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters
- Changes in these brain chemicals may cause or contribute to depression.
Certain diseases or illnesses
- Ailments such as cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and hormonal disorders can often trigger clinical depression. This is referred to as co-occurring depression.
Negative thinking patterns
- People who are pessimistic, have low self-esteem, worry excessively, or feel they have little control over life events are more likely to develop depression.
Family history of depression
- A genetic history of clinical depression can increase one's risk for developing the illness. But depression also occurs in people who have had no family members with depression.
Difficult life events
- Events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, financial strains, history of trauma, moving to a new location or significant loss can contribute to the onset of clinical depression.
- Some medication can actually cause clinical depression. Therefore, it is important that people inform their doctors of all medications they are taking and report any depressive symptoms.
Frequent and excessive alcohol consumption
- Drinking large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis can sometimes lead to clinical depression.