Is Depression A Symptom of Inflammation

Mental health and in particular depression is the worldwide leading cause of disability. Right now, they estimate around 3 million Australians are living with either depression or anxiety and they’re the people we know about. I can only imagine how many more people are living in silence with this debilitating condition 1.

Pharmaceuticals companies have been quick to swoop in and seemingly save our broken brains from despair but unfortunately conventional medicine cannot cure it. Its symptom based approach does nothing to get to the root cause of your mental illness.

A condition that has no blood test, you can’t just pee in a cup and run a sample through some fancy equipment to determine if you have depression or not. A depression diagnosis is made by your doctor or psychiatrist, which is a scary thought considering a paper published in 2015 in the Journal of Psychiatry found that many individuals who were prescribed an antidepressant didn’t meet the criteria for any said mental disorder. The researchers went onto to say that their data indicated that antidepressants are commonly prescribed to patients in the absence of clear evidence-based indications 2.

I know we’ve all been to led to believe that depression is merely a collection of symptoms due to a biochemical imbalance in the brain. I’m here to tell you that perhaps depression may not be cause by this so called biochemical imbalance and in fact the real culprit is INFLAMMATION. So while there may be a biochemical imbalance going on in your so called “broken brain” the cause may be what I deem to a be a modern day epidemic, inflammation, with the downstream effect being depression.

We modern westerners are swimming in it. From the packaged and processed foods we consume, to the environmental toxins we are relentless exposed to on a daily basis whether it be through the air we breathe or the toxic products we slather on our bodies. The human body can has become a toxic wasteland and when all these factors combine they create the perfect recipe for a cascade of inflammatory markers to get to work and wreak havoc on your body.

What the studies are telling us!!

A 2013 paper conducted by Australian researchers concluded “A range of factors appear to increase the risk for the development of depression and seem to be associated with systemic inflammation; these include psychosocial stressors, poor diet, physical inactivity, obesity, smoking, altered gut [function], [allergies], dental [cavities], sleep and vitamin D deficiency”3.

To prove that the root cause of depression was not in fact related to our brain chemistry, a group of scientists purposefully activated the inflammatory cascade in otherwise healthy people, who displayed no signs of depression. They did this by injecting them with a particular substance known to cause inflammation. What they observed is that these healthy people whom were free of depression quickly began to develop signs of depression once their bodies were primed with inflammation4.

This isn’t just a coincide, a multitude of studies are yielding similar results. Take for example another study which demonstrated the undeniable link between a poorly functioning gut ecosystem and the brain. The researchers discovered that higher inflammatory markers (signs of inflammation in the body) equated to more severe depression5.

Women with diabetes were nearly 30% more likely to develop depression

Let’s not forget about high blood sugar which is a leading risk factor for the development of depression. High blood sugar in itself is an inflammatory state which can lead to whole host of systemic problems. It’s interesting to note that a study conducted in 2010 which followed over 65,000 women for more than a decade discovered that women with diabetes were nearly 30% more likely to develop depression. The risk sky rocketed to 53% with diabetic women who took insulin7.

So what can I do about this inflammation?

The 1st step is to realise that the answer to fixing your “broken brain” lies in fixing your body. To do this we need to cool down inflammation, but this can be tricky as inflammation can have a multitude of sources, so it’s imperative you seek out a trained healthcare professional who can help you along your journey to get to the source of your inflammation and throw water on the fire once and for all. To get you started I’ve listed the most common inflammatory culprits.

Common Sources of Inflammation

  • Poor diet, the typical western diet, is teaming in refined carbohydrates, unnatural fats and refined sugars.
  • Food allergies, the most common culprits are dairy and gluten, in fact partially digested gluten proteins are often found in severely depressed patients
  • Alcohol
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Obesity, in itself is an inflammatory state as inflammation is found and stored in our fat cells. Therefore, it’s not surprising to read a recent meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies found obesity to increase the risk of later depression by 55%6
  • An altered gut ecosystem, an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut can secrete toxic waste products into our system, activating an inflammatory response
  • Vitamin D deficiency, studies have found an inverse relationship between low vitamin D status and increased inflammatory markers
  • Smoking, no surprise here, smoking unleashes a whole host of inflammatory markers into our body
  • Atopic disorders, namely eczema, asthma and allergic rhinitis. These condition all produce an inflammatory response, but you need to find the source of why the immune system is in a hyperactive state and producing the inflammatory response in the first place. Common culprits are food allergies/intolerances, poor diet and poor functioning gut ecosystem
  • Hormonal Imbalances

Doing detective work and trial-and-error can take a little effort and time, but bear in mind the average anti-depressant drug takes two-six weeks to kick in!

By Megan Maitland


BBioMedSci | BClinSci



  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. Cat. no. (4326.0). Canberra: ABS.
  2. Takayangi Y et al. 2015. Antidepressant Use and Lifetime History of Mental Disorders in a Community Sample: Results From the Balitmore Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. vol 76. no. 1. pp. 40-44. doi: 10.4088/JCP.13m08824.
  3. Berk m et al. 2013. So Depression Is an Inflammatory Disease, but Where Does the Inflammation Come From? BMC Med. 11.200. doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-11-200.
  4. Dantzer et al. 2008. “From Inflammation to Sickness and Depression: When the Immune System Subjugates the Brain,” Nat Rev Neurosci 9, no. 1, 46-56.
  5. Miller A et al. 2009. Inflammation and It’s Discontents: The Role of Cytokines in Pathophysiology of Major Depression. Biol Psychiatry. vol. 65. no. 9. pp. 732-41.
  6. Luppino FS, de Wit LM, Bouvy PF, Stijnen T, Cuijpers P, Penninx BW, Zitman FG: Overweight, obesity, and depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010, 67: 220-229.
  7. Pan A et al. 2010. Bidirectional Association between Depression and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Women. Arch Intern Med. vol. 170. no. 21. pp. 1884-91. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2010.356.

Disclaimer: The information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.

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