What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural immune response that arises when the immune system is under attack. This could be in response to an injury, infections, toxins etc. As a result of this inflammation, anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory cytokines* are released to act as messengers between immune cells. Pro-inflammatory cytokines have been linked several conditions such as depression, asthma, diabetes and obesity.
* Cytokines are proteins involved in cell signalling
Inflammation and depression
A number of studies have demonstrated a presence of increased pro-inflammatory cytokines in participants with depression, a disorder we have written about in the past. The impact of pro-inflammatory cytokines on mental health is largely attributed to their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, an important border that protects the brain. They degrade serotonin, an important neurotransmitter known as ‘the happy chemical’ (due to its relaxing effects). Not only this, but pro-inflammatory cytokines also degrade tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin. Inflammation blocks many important metabolic pathways so it is no surprise that it is able to have such a debilitating effect on mood.
A 2008 study found that an eight week treatment with the antidepressant Zoloft decreased pro-inflammatory cytokines and an increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines. This highlights that the connection between depression and inflammation.
Anti-inflammatory foods to the rescue
Tackling inflammation could very well be the key to improving mood and there are several natural ways of decreasing inflammation. This connection gives rise to alternative treatments, such as incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into the diet. For example, a 2016 study showed that the intake of antioxidants such as anthocyanin can lower the risk of depression, especially in older women. Another study in 2012 demonstrated preclinical evidence that anthocyanin possesses potential antidepressant activity. While further study is needed, people with depression might find relief by increasing the amount of anthocyanin in their diet.