Inflammation May Be Cause of Depression, Researchers Suggest

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A fascinating new theory has emerged from Cambridge University: the possibility of treating depression with anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen.

Researchers have suggested that in a significant number of cases, depression could be caused by long-term inflammation in the body. The idea has gained credibility over the last few years, since the association between low mood and inflammation caused by infections can be seen in simple illnesses like colds. Indeed, the average cold is associated with listlessness and exhaustion.

Evolutionary psychology has suggested that inflammation and depression may have aided survival, therefore keeping humans from leaving a cave when too ill. This is a method that could have prevented humans at increased risk of attack of spreading their illness to tribe members.

The university scientists have been following 4,500 children since the 1990s. They took blood samples when the children at age 9 that showed signs of inflammation, then testing for interleukin-6, a protein released by the body to fight infection. Nine years later, scientists queried the teens about signs of depression.

Researchers found that kids with high levels of inflammation were twice as likely as kids with low levels of inflammation to suffer from depression later in life. According to study lead Dr. Golam Khandaker, some people simply have higher levels of inflammation than others.

“Our immune system acts like a thermostat, turned down low most of the time but cranked up when we have an infection,” Khandaker said. “In some people the thermostat is always set slightly higher, behaving as if they have a persistent low-level infection — these people appear to be at higher risk of developing depression.”

The Cambridge team is also investigating into how exactly chronic inflammation could cause depression. Currently, the team believes the answer may lie in the vagus nerve, which studies of mice have pointed to. During tests, an activation of inflammation in the gut led the vagus nerve to trigger the brain into releasing toxic chemicals. Ntiric oxide, quinolinic acid and kynurenic acid were among the chemicals released, all of which are bad for the functioning of nerve cells in the brain and therefore possibly a cause of depression.

Source: DailyMail / Photo Credit: Flickr

 
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