Ask your Pharmacist
Could depression be an allergic reaction?
Eamonn Brady is a pharmacist and the owner of Whelehans Pharmacies, Pearse St and Clonmore Mullingar. If you have any health questions e-mail them to email@example.com
An article written by Caroline Williams in the The Guardian examined how scientific research is indicating depression may be due to the body’s immune system.
A theory some scientists and psychologists argue relates to how everyone feels miserable when they are ill. That feeling of being too lethargic, bored and fed up to move off the couch and get on with life is known among psychologists as “sickness behaviour”. They argue this happens for a good reason; they say it is mother-nature helping us avoid doing more damage or spreading an infection any further.
“Sickness behaviour” resembles depression. So if people with depression show classic “sickness behaviour” and sick people feel a lot like people with depression, could there be a common cause that accounts for both? The answer may be yes and inflammation is being given as the cause. Inflammation is the part of the immune system that acts as a burglar alarm to close wounds and call other parts of the immune system into action. A family of proteins called cytokines sets off inflammation in the body, and switches the brain into sickness mode.
Both cytokines and inflammation have been shown to rocket during periods of depression and in people with bipolar and then drops off in periods of remission. Studies show that healthy people can also be temporarily put into a depressed and anxious state when given a vaccine that causes a spike in inflammation. There are other indicators of this theory too. People with inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis tend to suffer more than average with depression; cancer patients given a drug called interferon alpha, which boosts their inflammatory response to help fight the cancer, often become depressed as a side-effect.
Allergic to modern living?
With depression getting more common, scientists are researching if increased inflammation rates could be a factor. One theory given is that our modern diet tends to be higher in trans-fats and sugar and these have been shown to promote inflammation. A healthy diet full of fruit, veg and oily fish helps keep inflammation at bay. Obesity could be another risk factor because body fat, particularly around the stomach, stores large quantities of cytokines. Add this to the fact that stress, especially the kind that follows social rejection or loneliness, also causes inflammation, and it starts to look as if depression is a sort of “allergy to modern life”.
If inflammation is the cause; what about preventing it? Inflammation has an important role in the body as the body requires inflammation to fight off infections. We need a certain amount of inflammation; it is too much of it that is the problem. Thus lowering but not eliminating levels of systemic inflammation to manageable levels should be the goal.
The few clinical trials done so far have found that adding anti-inflammatory medicines to antidepressants not only improves symptoms, it also increases the proportion of people who respond to treatment, although more trials will be needed to confirm this. There is also some evidence that omega 3 (type found in fish oils) are natural “anti-inflammatories” and may have similar effects. They are available over the counter and might be worth a try, although only as an add-on to any prescribed treatment; there is not enough evidence to use them as a replacement to conventional treatment.