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Depression Now Linked to Inflammation

Many of us are familiar with the vicious cycle of type 2 diabetes — a condition in which a person’s body is not able to use glucose effectively and often because its tissues have become resistant to insulin.  This insulin resistance often leads to more and more insulin production, and continued weight gain. But more recently, scientists have established one more piece of the cycle: the presence of tissue inflammation.

Inflammation is basically the body’s way of fighting back against injury, or infection; it’s a self defense mechanism. The science behind this inflammation is still young, but basically what we know is that continued insulin resistance leads to elevated levels of cytokines (or proteins which help cells communicate) deep inside a person’s fat tissues, and that this high elevation of cytokines leads to inflammation. This excess inflammation, in turn, may further alter insulin’s effectiveness and keep on contributing to the vicious cycle of insulin overproduction and tissue resistance.

But now researchers are also pairing a long-time partner of diabetes to inflammation: depression! It turns out that people who suffer from depression are loaded with cytokines, leading some researchers to speculate that depression might be triggered by inflammation (or at least some forms of it).

While this needs to be further studied, this information might well ring true for many people with diabetes. For years, patients with diabetes have understood what it’s like to carry the weight of depression. Indeed, many studies have shown that depression may both lead to and be caused by type 2 diabetes. Changes in blood sugar, after all, may lead to extreme mood swings.

In my personal experience, my diabetes diagnosis involved experiencing an episode of severe depression which hospitalized me for some time. No one ever suspected I had type 2 diabetes, although I had already developed fatty liver disease and had some elevated morning blood sugars (of at least 143 mg/dL.) I struggled with uncontrolled depression symptoms for a good 3 years before being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Then slowly, the depression seemed to vanish. Just like that.

After diagnosis, as my diabetes symptoms improved, so did my depression symptoms. Perhaps it was related to a more intensive treatment of not just diabetes – but of inflammation.

Treatment of depression is similar to treatment for type 2 diabetes, and it is a multi-pronged approach: healthy diet, exercise, and medication.

Generally, we’re just too tired or bummed out to start eating right and exercising, and that’s where medications can come in (both for depression and for diabetes) – to help bring us to a place where we can have a bit of renewed energy and renewed focus. And as it turns out, focusing on a diet which helps alleviate inflammation will not just improve insulin resistance, but might also well help a patient improve symptoms of depression, and that’s a great deal. It might mean an open door to newer forms of medication – perhaps even safer ones – which could also help treat various other conditions, like heart disease, high blood pressure, and cholesterol problems.

Depression is a serious health condition; often one in which few questions are asked, and medication easily dispensed. Clinicians owe it to patients to approach it in a thorough manner in order to determine if there are other equally serious and underlying health concerns.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.