A recent study from has found links between depression and infections.
A summary of their findings is as follows:
- People with depression tend to have higher levels of inflammation, even if they are not actively fighting an infection.
- Researchers have made genetic links between depression and immune system function.
- Depressed behavior (low energy, social isolation) actually in beneficial to people when they are sick with an infection. This behavior allows the body to use its resources fighting the infection.
- Stress is linked to depression, by activating the immune system.
- This may guide future research on depression, especially in terms of how markers of inflammation may predict how people respond to treatments for depression.
Although it's good that the above mentioned study is showing objective evidence for a link between infection and depression, this is really nothing new that many holistic practitioners have not known for years.
This is not only known through clinical experience. Practitioners familiar with organic acid testing know that tryptophan does not necessarily convert to serotonin. In case in inflammation and/or infection it can be converted down the kyurentate pathway, and into pro-inflammatory cytokines.
For a long time psychiatry held the belief that depression was due to a “chemical imbalance” involving serotonin. So they would give drugs which in theory effected the serotonin pathway.
Many practitioners in natural health would basically do the same thing, except instead of giving medications, gave supplements to facilitate serotonin production. These include vitamin B6, magnesium, tryptophan, and 5-htp.
Although this approach has merit and does help some people, it is not universally successful. It is also often based around expensive functional lab test, and supplement programs.
If a practitioner is doing this for depression (and only this), then it might be called natural, but it certainly is not holistic. Again, amino acid labs test, and supplements absolutely have their place, and I do utilize them when appropriate. I am simply saying that in terms of mental symptoms, this should not be a myopic focus.
When working with someone who feels “depressed,” “anxious,” or any other mental symptoms, the first thing I do is take a full history to see what else is going on. Is there a possibly hormonal problem, infection, digestive issue, candida, toxicity, or some other problem? This is what Naturopathy is about, looking for the underlining cause of illness in each individual. In naturopathy, we can treat a person who feels depressed. But it makes no sense to “treat depression.”
Concerns about this study:
While I like the information in the study, over time these findings may lead to treatment strategies I do not agree with.
- Infection and inflammation are just one possible cause of feeling depressed. While even the authors of study clearly agree, conventional medicine often forces treatment to follow a simple path of matching medications with diagnosis, regardless of individual differences.
- There are already many ways to lower inflammation and boost immune function in natural health. Medications that are both much more costly, and come with numerous side effects may be developed as a first option for depression, when in my opinion, they should be a last option.