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Depression and Inflammation

Exercise and moderate alcohol consumption are known to reduce inflammation, but new research from Duke University Medical Center, published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity (March 2013), finds that depression can impede the positive anti-inflammatory effects.

“Depression has consequences that go beyond the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms that we associate with it,” says lead researcher Edward C. Suarez, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke. “We’re beginning to understand that there are a number of biological mechanisms that are disregulated when depression takes effect. And one of these characteristics contributes to inflammation.”

Suarez studied 222 adults, noting their depressive symptoms, exercise and drinking habits, and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, which rise with inflammation and can predict future inflammatory conditions like cardiovascular disease or diabetes. The men and women who exercised had lower CRP levels (and, thus, less inflammation) — unless they were depressed. Likewise, men who drank alcohol in moderation had lower CRP levels, unless they were depressed.

Suarez hypothesizes that depression may slow down the body’s response to inflammation fighters. “It may take a longer period of time for inflammation to be reduced in people who are depressed,” he notes.

Despite the fact that the blues can steal some of the immediate anti-inflammatory benefits of exercise, Suarez encourages us to carry on: “The effects will come; they just might not come as quickly as you expected,” he says. “Remember, as you exercise, your depression is going to get better and, eventually, so is your biology.”

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