The quick answer to the above question is: we just don’t know. The best we have for now is a “maybe.”
Researchers continue to probe the various causes of depression, which include genetics, brain chemistry, environmental factors, and more. One theory that continues to receive attention is that inflammation negatively impacts mental health.
A recent study out of Denmark concludes that elevated levels of a protein found in the blood—C-reactive protein—produced when the body experiences inflammation may be associated with an “increased risk for psychological distress and depression in the general population.”
While the study in no way proves a cause-and-effect relationship between inflammation and depression, the authors did note that further study on the subject could prove fruitful.
A similar 2011 study published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation showed that high levels of quinolinic acid in spinal fluid are associated with chronic depression and suicide. Quinolinic acid is another byproduct your body produces in response to inflammation.
Continuing to study the effect of inflammation on mental health offers the hope of novel treatments for depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses.
What Does This Mean for You?
Inflammation is a sign of distress, and is part of the body’s natural immune response to something harmful. It works as a form of protection in certain situations, such as protecting a wound while it heals. However, systemic, long-term inflammation is a hallmark of chronic conditions like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and others.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that if you avoid inflammation you can dodge depression, but keeping inflammation at bay is almost always good for your overall health.
Using a common sense approach to fighting inflammation can help keep you healthy, and if the Danish study is correct, it could also help keep you mentally fit.
Simple ways to fight inflammation include:
- staying hydrated throughout the day
- avoiding bad fats, such as trans-fatty acids
- consuming good fats, like omega-3 fatty acids
- eating plenty of dark, leafy vegetables
- engaging in regular exercise
- de-stressing when needed
- getting enough sleep
The Danish study was conducted as part of the Copenhagen General Population study, which continually follows various conditions in about 100,000 people in Denmark.
Citizens of Denmark who participate in the study complete various surveys about their health, submit to physical examinations, and give blood samples over the span of their adult lives.
The availability of such a large study population provides researchers with an unprecedented amount of data about the human body and the development of disease. This population has been used to study numerous common health concerns, from the epidemiology of headaches to how triglyceride concentration affects ischemic heart disease.
The inflammation and depression study incorporated 73,131 of these people ages 20 to 100. The level of depression a person experienced was measured based on surveys, antidepressant use, and hospitalizations due to depression.