Depression – The Inflammatory Fire within the Brain

by | Oct 7, 2020

In Australia, over 3 million people are living with depression. Moreover, recent studies have indicated that medications commonly prescribed for depression are failing to achieve significant improvement in symptoms.

Depression is likely an interplay of many factors and not just a deficiency in a particular brain chemical, which has been the typical target for treating people with depression.

New research has discovered that depression for some people may be that the brain chemical response becomes disrupted due to a biological dysregulation, such as inflammatory processes

What is Inflammation?

If we cut ourselves, the inflammatory process is easy to see, at the site of the injury, it becomes red, swollen, hot, and often painful. These responses show the body protecting itself by releasing chemicals around the injury site to prevent further injury or infection. However, there is also inflammation that occurs within our body. This inflammation we are not able to physically see, and only blood tests can indicate if specific inflammatory chemical biomarkers are present.

These internal inflammatory chemical biomarkers are linked to many health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and now depression.

Depression and Inflammation

Several studies looking at inflammatory biomarkers in people with depression compared to people without depression have consistently found elevated inflammatory markers in people diagnosed with depression.  Researchers have also identified that these inflammatory chemicals can influence mood-regulating processes in several ways, including:

  • Dysregulating brain chemical metabolism.
  • They are impairing brain nerve cell health such as growth, survival and repair.
  • It is altering brain cell activity in areas of the brain associated with mood control.

What Factors Influence Inflammatory Processes in Relationship to Depression?

A dysregulation in inflammation such as an exaggerated or prolonged inflammatory response may influence a person’s risk concerning depression. Factors that influence a dysregulated inflammatory process include:

  • Poor digestive health, including alterations in the gut flora, intestinal permeability and digestive disorders such as IBS.
  • Constant immune system challenges such as stress, pathogenic infections and poor diet.
  • Predisposing factors such as – a family history of depression, early life stress, genetics and obesity.
  • Chronic sickness and pain.
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Medical treatments such as certain therapies for treating specific cancers.

How Can Nutrition Help?

There are specific diets, foods and nutrients shown to be protective against inflammation and can treat inflammation. Nutrition strategies work as part of an overall treatment plan to help manage depression and moods disorders. These nutritional therapies aim to prevent the body from producing inflammatory chemicals or block the action of these chemicals within the body.

Some of these nutrition strategies may include:

  • Increasing intake of probiotics found as a supplement or fermented foods such as sauerkraut and fermented drinks such as milk kefir.
  • Include Omega 3 fatty acids foods in the diet found in foods such as fish, walnuts or supplementation.
  • Under guidance from an experienced clinical nutritionist, discuss the practicalities of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting can reduce the inflammatory chemicals the body produces and increase a vital brain chemical known as Brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor is critical for maintaining healthy nerve cells within the brain.
  • Curcumin – this is the active compound found in turmeric and has been studied extensively for its anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Many researchers are now investigating its impact concerning its anti-inflammatory properties concerning depression, and it has shown some great potential.

Support for anyone in Australia who may be distressed is available immediately by calling the below numbers:

  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Mensline 1300 789 978
  • Beyondblue 1300 224 636
  • Kids Helpline 1800 551 800;

What You Can Do Now

Keep it simple. Nutritious food doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy.

Start to incorporate some of the foods suggested above into daily meals, if possible choose locally grown whole real foods. Changes don’t need to happen all at once. Small changes can make an enormous difference.

Changes to your diet or nutrition to manage a health condition should only be undertaken with advice from a suitably qualified nutritional health professional.

This factsheet is for general information only.

Please contact me to discuss your individual needs.