A link between depression and inflammation?

A recent Science Alert article announced the results of a large study involving close to 86,000 people in the UK: There’s an association between a higher risk of depression and a higher level of bodily inflammation.

What does this mean?

We don’t know. I love how, like most of science journalism, a bold and promising headline gives way to paragraphs of doubt and descriptions of methodological limitations.

An association between depression and inflammation in the body may mean that one increases the risk of the other, or that there’s another factor (or factors) contributing to both.

You can think of some plausible scenarios that tie the two together. For example, someone with depression may eat more poorly, and maybe their poor diet elevates their levels of bodily inflammation. But we don’t yet understand the mechanisms at play, and jumping to conclusions may put people in harm’s way (for instance, if they try to treat their depression with anti-inflammatory meds).

That said, eating a more nutritious diet is a good decision to make regardless of the relationship between depression and inflammation. And it’s interesting to follow research that explores the interaction of mental and physical health. Many people impose a barrier between brain/mind and body, but our brain is a part of our body, and our systems are complex.