It is not uncommon to associate anger with fire; heated conversations, inflammatory words, and the need to cool down. But research is showing that depression is also fueled by the same internal defense system that causes us to have a fever with an infection. This defense is inflammation, and while it works great to help us fight the flu, if we have too much inflammation we can suffer arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and a host of other problems. When inflammation hits our brains, we become depressed.
A real breakthrough in depression treatment.
This link between inflammation and depression is truly exciting, because it could shift the treatment of depression away from the one-size-fits-all pattern of doctors handing out anti-depressants like candy to anyone who feels a little blue, and give rise to more individualized treatment. Plus, lifestyle changes have an enormous impact on inflammation, which puts the ability to ease your depression back in your hands.
As James M. Greenblatt, MD, author of the book The Breakthrough Depression Solution, explains, inflammation is a normal part of our immune system. When our bodies feel under attack from an injury or disease, our inflammation response releases cytokines, some of which are pro-inflammatory and some of which are anti-inflammatory.
Anyone who has ever taken an aspirin is acquainted with the idea of anti-inflammatory drugs. Our mothers probably gave us children’s aspirin to reduce our fever whenever we were sick. Aspirin is also recommended for persons who may be having a heart attack, or in low doses to prevent one.
Writing in Psychology Today, Dr. Greenblatt cites a study of depressed patients considered “non-responsive” to anti-depressant therapy. When the participants were given aspirin in addition to their regular medication, 50% showed improvement, and by the end of the study 80% were considered in remission. Pretty astounding stuff.
This does not mean you should start an aspirin regimen without checking with your doctor. But it does show that standard anti-depressant therapy is not the end of the story. In fact, Greenblatt writes that over the years anti-depressants have been only slightly more effective than placebos.
What we can do on our own.
According to Dr. Kelly Brogan, there are a number of lifestyle changes we can make to decrease the inflammation in our bodies and our brains. Food is a major contributing factor, and if you are having digestive problems, she says your gut may be telling you that your brain is inflamed.
Diet. Sugar, especially fructose and sucrose, cause spikes in our levels of insulin, and insulin causes the release of more pro-inflammatory cytokines. Artificial additives, pesticides, plastics and other chemicals get ingested whenever we eat processed foods, and our immune systems go into full battle mode to fight these intruders. If you think you may have a reaction to the gluten in grains, you might also want to try life without it for a while, and see if it changes how you feel.
Exercise. We know it makes us feel better, but beyond the release of endorphins, we may not have known why. Turns out exercise fights brain inflammation, too. Dr. Brogan recommends short 30 second bursts of intense exercise, with 90 second intervals of rest. Other research has shown these short bursts to also help fats move through your bloodstream and be beneficial to your heart. Eight to nine bursts, one to three times a week is a good place to start.
Meditation. As well as clearing your thinking, meditation has been shown to reduce inflammation in the brain. Studies have shown significant benefits to our nervous system from listening to a guided meditation for 20 minutes.
Selected supplements. My optometrist recommends Omega 3 for inflammation in the eyes, and cardiologists advise it for a healthy heart. Fish oils, curcumin, and other natural anti-inflammatory agents also help cool down your brain. Dr. Brogan also mentions that pro-biotics may be helpful for some people with digestive problems which are impacting their brains.
Avoid chemicals where you can. It is hard to clear all chemicals in our lives, but you can take care to avoid harsh cleaners, treated carpets, and weed killer on your lawn. The more bombarded our immune systems feel, the more inflammation we will feel.
These suggestions show up everywhere people write about building healthier lifestyles. Knowing they can help you beat depression by cooling inflammation in your brain is just one more reason to take the experts advice.
To read more from Dr. Greenblatt and Dr. Brogan, visit:
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