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If you suffer from depression, inflammation in your brain (and perhaps the rest of your body) may be part of the problem.

Research published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2015 found that neuro-inflammation can cause depressive symptoms, including sadness, “low mood,” loss of appetite, and weight loss.

Inflammation is an essential natural response to injury and infection, and is key to maintaining immunity. But chronic, bodywide inflammation can be damaging and have an adverse rather than protective function. In the brain, ongoing inflammation can be triggered by stress, trauma, and toxicity, among other factors.

For the study, researchers from the University of Toronto, University of Mississippi Medical Center, and Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health used positron emission tomography (PET) to scan the brains of 20 patients with depression and 20 control participants without depression. The brains of people experiencing clinical depression showed roughly 30 percent more inflammation than those in the control group.

Depression is one of the most common mental-health issues in the United States, affecting some 16 million adults annually. Treating it can be a long, difficult, and hit-or-miss process, partly because psychiatrists have only a partial understanding of causes and cures.

By addressing inflammatory components of depression — rather than just the neurological ones — doctors may be able to approach treatment more effectively. Treatment strategies might include anti-inflammatory lifestyle recommendations and new prescription-medication protocols (clinical trials combining antidepressants with anti-inflammatories have shown positive results), as well as over-the-counter supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids and curcumin.

Lifestyle changes — including eating whole foods and avoiding gluten and processed fare — may get more emphasis in this new generation of treatments. For more on inflammation and neurological illnesses, see “Overcoming Grain Brain“. For new insights into treating depression, go to “Free Yourself From Depression“.

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