Our world continues to fill with emotionally suffering people of all ages, and yet how can we be surprised as a society that mental health is suffering under the stress put on both adults and children? While many are willing to acknowledge the stress of the 2020’s and its contributions, we should not stop there and blame solely psychosocial factors. Although I will emphasize the spiritual and emotional aspects of mental health elsewhere, in this article review I want to draw your attention to another rather invisible factor, that of inflammation. While not confirming whether the inflammation acted as the chicken or the egg in these individuals, the review does prove that inflammation is playing a role in the mental health crisis and therefore should not be ignored in our solutions.
In the article in focus, researchers identified higher markers of inflammation in teenagers with depression versus those without depression. Multiple prior studies have correlated various types of inflammation with mood disorders in adults, but less was known about the contribution of similar inflammation to the increasing prevalence of mood disorders in children. Considering the reality that major depressive disorder comes up as a leading cause of adolescent disability and a major contributor to teen suicide, a better understanding of what contributes to such depression is obviously important. Prior studies noted in the focus article focused on retrospective analysis of teens with depression to see if their inflammation markers were higher, but little research had looked at what led to the development of depression.
The focus study was designed to better assess the development of depression in relation to existing inflammation. By looking at a cohort of Brazilian teens who were being followed with a depression risk assessment tool as part of wider study, they looked for what markers of inflammation might predict the development or presence of depression. They further evaluated whether these markers were the same in boys as in girls in the study.
Researchers report findings that both boys and girls in the study had markers of inflammation correlating with depression risk, but the markers were different. In boys, a cytokine or immune messenger called Interleukin 2 increased the risk while in girls it was the elevation of cytokine Interleukin 6. The severity of depression in each group was also correlated with the level of these cytokines.
Most can agree that rarely can we blame a mood disorder on a single factor. There are always some genetics, some chemical and some psycho-social-emotional-spiritual factors. This study does not seek to deny the realities of a person’s non-biological contributors, but points to the fact that inflammation somehow plays a role in mood disorders in our teens. We don’t have a full answer for whether that is a chicken or egg type of relationship (it may be both), but we need to keep this in mind as our society, especially our government attempts to offer solutions to the mental health crisis we face.
In order to care for those who are suffering mental illness we must keep our minds open to all necessary approaches. We must consider inflammation and then move upstream to consider what might be aggravating inflammation, things like infections, toxins, and lifestyle, if we hope to provide a full-orbed solution. At Sanctuary Functional Medicine, as we work to restore healthier more abundant lives, we already recognized the contribution of inflammation and its triggers to the mental health of our patients. Hopefully, the wider medical community will join in this understanding before more suffer unnecessarily.
Zuzanna Zajkowska, Naghmeh Nikkheslat, Pedro H. Manfro, Laila Souza, Fernanda Rohrsetzer, Anna Viduani, Rivka Pereira, Jader Piccin, Valentina Zonca, Annabel E.L. Walsh, Nancy Gullett, Helen L. Fisher, Johnna R. Swartz, Brandon A. Kohrt, Christian Kieling, Valeria Mondelli. Sex-specific inflammatory markers of risk and presence of depression in adolescents. Journal of Affective Disorders, 2023; DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2023.07.055
Thanks to Science Daily:
King’s College London. “Inflammatory signs for adolescent depression differ between boys and girls.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 September 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/09/230913122709.htm>.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.