Our bodies, more specifically, our immune systems, are one of the most intricately evolved systems we have. For hundreds of millions of years our ancestors have evolved better and more advanced mechanisms for defending the body from outside invaders. When you consider how often you get ill and compare that to the sheer number of outside microbes that enter your body on a second by second basis, you begin to understand how well our immune systems normally fare (Flajnik & Kasahara, 2009). In more recent years, researchers have begun to draw connections between our body’s inflammatory response and our brain’s health! Today we are going to break down the role inflammation plays in our mental health.
For a long time, scientists have noticed a correlation between inflammatory autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus, and depression. For many years, this relationship was chalked up to the old adage “Hey, wouldn’t you be depressed too if you struggled with chronic pain?” However, current research suggests that the inflammation in the body might play a more causative role in depressive symptoms. In several studies examining patients with both mood and psychotic disorders (such as Major Depressive Disorder and schizophrenia), it was found that, on average, patients with these psychiatric conditions had much higher levels of inflammatory messengers in their blood than healthy controls. Additionally, the level of inflammatory messengers was predictive of the severity of their condition (Harvard, Health Publishing, 2021; Yuan et al., 2019; Miller & Raison, 2015).
Recent experiments have been evaluating the effectiveness of treating specific psychiatric conditions with targeted anti-inflammatory drugs. So far, these studies have shown very promising results and may provide us with new treatments for specific psychiatric conditions in chronically inflamed individuals (Yuan et al., 2019). The future of immunopsychiatry is very bright and may even be able to provide us with new treatment options for managing our mental health!