Depression is a disease not just of the brain but of the whole body. This revolutionary idea has been researched for more than 20 years and some definitive answers are starting to emerge.
Normally our immune system is our friend and protector. It recognizes foreign bugs and injury and mounts an inflammatory response in order to preserve us. However, sometimes it misreads signals and attacks it’s own tissues. In this case, the NMDA receptors which play a key role in brain function.
Prof Ed Bullmore, Head of Psychiatry at University of Cambridge says, “Depression and inflammation often go hand in hand, if you have flu, the immune system reacts to that, you become inflamed and very often people find that their mood changes too.”
There is now a fair body of evidence to suggest that depression is not just associated with inflammation but could be caused by it.
A senior Rheumatologist draws a parallel between a well-established auto-immune disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Depression. He comments, “We scanned the brains of people with rheumatoid arthritis, we then gave them a very specific immune targeted therapy and then we imaged them again afterwards. What we are starting to see when we give anti-inflammatory medicines is quite remarkable changes in the neuro-chemical circuitry in the brain. The brain pathways involved in mediating depression were favourably changed in people who were given immune interventions.”
This innovation could mean that some day soon we will be able to order a blood test to help with the diagnosis of depression and offer appropriate treatment. The use of the phrase ‘pull yourself together’ will not be used as often as it is today.