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November 1, 2013

So Depression is an inflammation, but where does the inflammation come from?

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Michael Berk et al from IMPACT Strategic Research Center, School of Medicine, Deakin University, Australia have summarized research on depression in the light of inflammation. Their work is innovative and shifts the focus from imbalances in neurochemistry to how life events, life style, and environment affect inflammatory processes in the body, which in turn impact physical and mental health.  Here is the link to the article they wrote: So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from?
BMC Medicine     |  Sep 12, 2013 (FREE FULL TEXT)

The researchers tackle the question, what are the sources of chronic, unseen inflammations in our lives that affect depressive and other mental health symptoms. Do these sources of inflammation possibly explain the enormous, epidemic increases in depressive disorders in children and adults over the past 50-80 years?

What they found that people who have one or more of the following symptoms have higher levels of inflammation in their bodies (so you cannot see the inflammation) and are at significantly greater risk of developing depression and other psychiatric illness:

  • those with a history of trauma
  • those with ongoing low grade stress in their lives
  • people who eat  largely a Western diet (high in saturated fats and sugar, low in omega-3s, fiber and veges)
  • who lead primarily a sedative lifestyle, or were inactive as kids,
  • those who struggle with being overweight or obese
  • smoke
  • people who have digestive problems
  • people who are sensitive to allergens or have  an auto-immune disorder
  • people who have periodontal disease ( 47% of US adults)
  • have abnormal sleep patterns, insomnia or sleep disturbances (80-90% with these symptoms alone suffer from clinical depression)
  • or people who have low levels of Vitamin

The bad news is, that most Americans fit into one or more of these categories.  It is not surprising to understand, in the light of this research, that the US populations (and other Western nations as well) show an enormous increase in psychiatric disorders, from depression, to bi-polar disorder and Autism.  It is also not surprising when we hear that pharmaceutical companies are making hay; but what antidepressants can not do, is treat the cause of the inflammation.  That is were the good news comes in.

The good news is, this situation is reversible.  Most of the above risk markers for inflammation as they relate to psychiatric illness, and depression in particular, are related to life style choices, and in particular to many of the conveniences of modern life.  Above all, changes in diet and how we deal with daily and traumatic stress can make a huge difference.  The authors of the research article named study after study that showed that a healthy dietary pattern, high in vegetables and fruits, whole grains, fish and legumes reduced inflammatory markers, while a diet high in red and processed meats, refined carbs and other processed foods increased inflammatory markers.  They also reported that as little as 8 weeks into the new diet, people showed significant improvements.

The same is true for stress.  While exposure to trauma in childhood seems to be most pervasive in its effects and associated with poor functioning of the immune and hormonal system and of the nervous system later in life.  Daily stress and job strain over many years not only increase susceptibility to physical and mental illness, but also interferes with the ability to heal.  This means that chronic stress, of all kinds, when not addressed and actively modified and relieved, will compromise the ability to lead a healthy life.  Of course, stress is not avoidable.  However we can learn to pace our stress and rather reaching for that pastry, drink or distracting us with TV, movies and screen time, we can choose to counterbalance our stress with yoga, being out in nature, and eating a healthy diet.

While this all sounds a bit too easy, it is.  What prevents most of us from changing to a healthier life style are our habits and entrenched behaviors.  While the mind is willing, the flesh resists.  Most people will not only need the information and tools to change their life style, they will also require the structure and guidance to accomplish their health goals.

I look forward hearing your comments.

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