A recent Australian study published in the peer reviewed PLOS One Journal showed that changing your diet from one high in processed foods and sugar to a more Mediterranean style diet was able to improve moderate to severe depression symptoms in young adults (17 to 35 years old) in as little as three weeks.
The lead author, Dr Heather Francis, explained that there is a link between chronic inflammation and depression, which the study sought to explore. Her researchers found a diet higher in vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, quality protein and olive oil was one effective way to reduce inflammation and thereby improve depression. The results highlight the potential for interventions other than antidepressant medication and talking therapies that can impact depression by tackling chronic inflammation.
One of the first observed links between inflammation and depression was made in 2007 when doctors noticed that hepatitis C patients treated with the anti-viral drug interferon, which causes the release of pro inflammatory cytokines, also triggered low appetite, disturbed sleep, loss of pleasure, cognitive impairment and suicidal thoughts.
Our understanding of the links between depression and inflammation is still a developing story, however, the emergence of this connection is paving the way for new methods to prevent, as well as to address, depression. It’s refreshing to see researchers focused on exploring preventative and non-pharmaceutical avenues for treating depression.
As well as diet, the interventions that are showing promise include:
Researchers have observed those experiencing psychological stress and anxiety showed significantly greater increases in inflammatory interferons as well as lowering the body’s built in, anti-inflammatory compounds. Stress reduction in no longer a nice thing to have but a key platform in recovery from depression.
Regular exercise down-regulates systemic inflammation and may explain why it is both an effective treatment strategy for depression and also protects against the development of new episodes of depression.
Leaky gut allows pathogens into the bloodstream that then trigger an inflammatory response which in turn worsens the gut permeability. Repairing the integrity of the gut is therefore a priority in reducing systemic inflammation.
Research has demonstrated that acute sleep deprivation results in impairments in immune functioning and increases pro-inflammatory cytokines. So therapies that focus on restoring better sleep may positively impact depression.
We know vitamin D plays a big role in the functioning of the immune system and is important for quality sleep; now there is a growing epidemiological evidence-base linking depressive symptoms to low levels of vitamin D.
With time, it’s likely our approach to treating depression will look a lot more holistic than it has up until now and that can only be a good thing.