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Is there a link between inflammation and depression?

Increasing evidence suggests that clinical depression is related to activation of the inflammatory response system in our body.

It is proposed that the release of proinflammatory cytokines substantially contributes to the behavioral alterations associated with depression such as low mood, anhedonia, loss of appetite, lack of energy, poor sleep, cognitive impairment, and limited functioning.

Common inflammatory disorders that have high comorbidity with depression include arthritis, thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes, and ulcerative colitis. Furthermore, patients with both asthma and genetic allergies have an approximately 50% higher incidence of clinical depression.

What is inflammation?

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.

However, too much inflammation for prolonged periods of time can break down the body, resulting in weakness and fatigue. Research suggests that individuals who have higher levels of inflammatory markers are at a higher risk of developing depression within five years.

Environmental stress

Researchers have concluded that stress-induced depression is more likely to have pro-inflammatory cytokines as a cause. Stressful environmental triggers, such as poverty or abuse, may contribute to the development of inflammation in the body.

When the body is stressed, from either physical illness or a host of environmental stressors, it wants to fight off the “attackers” and, as a result, gives off an inflammatory reaction, increasing the risk for the development of depression.


Research suggests that treating the underlying medical illness can play a huge role in managing depression. A study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry found direct correlation with improved depression when the underlying medical illness is treated.

In addition, non-pharmacological treatments for mitigating inflammation, such as adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet, getting regular exercise, and talking to a therapist may help decrease inflammation and alleviate depressive symptoms. If you or someone you know is currently struggling with depression, consider following up with your health care provider to discuss treatment of any underlying inflammatory disorders that could be exacerbating depressive symptoms.

Finding the underlying physiological cause of depression may lead you to the solutions that are right for you. At Brightland Health we have psychiatrists and therapists that might be able to guide you in the right direction.


Chang, T. T., Yen, Y-C., (2010). Cytokines and Major Psychiatric Disorders. Taiwanese Journal of Psychiatry (Taipei) Vol. 24 No. 4, 257-268.

Bai S, Guo W, Feng Y, et al. Efficacy and safety of anti-inflammatory agents for the treatment of major depressive disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry Published Online First: 28 October 2019. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2019-320912


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