Shirley Wang published an article in the WSJ titled “New View of Depression: An Ailment of the Entire Body”. Her lead-in stated: “Scientists are increasingly finding that depression and other psychological disorders can be as much diseases of the body as of the mind. People with long-term psychological stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder tend to develop earlier and more serious forms of physical illnesses that usually hit people in older age, such as stroke, dementia, heart disease and diabetes”.
Ms. Wang reported that Dr. Owen Wolkowitz at the University of California, San Francisco thinks of depression as “a systemic illness”, rather than a mental or brain disease. Dr. Wolkowitz found that
“[D]epression is associated with an unusually high rate of aging-related illnesses and early mortality”, or “accelerated aging”. He also points out that individuals who are aging more rapidly and/or are ill, have shorter telomeres than expected.
[Division is essential for most healthy cells. Telomeres are the protective tips of chromosomes that guide the chromosomes during cell division. Every time a cell divides, the telomeres shorten in length. Eventually there is little or no telomere resulting in an inability of the cell to divide efficiently. Eventually the cell dies. Some investigators are of the opinion that the length of telomeres is a predictor of longevity.]
There appears to be a strong association of inflammation with shorter telomeres. Senescent cells, which are unable to divide any longer and have almost non-existent telomeres, produce high concentrations of immune factors, cytokines, that regulate genes that result in inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is found in a myriad of diseases including cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer multiple sclerosis, dementia, as well as depression. Heightened levels of inflammation are found in smokers and the obese. Each pack of cigarettes smoked results in a 18% shortening of telomeres, and the telomeres of obese women are shorter than those of lean women. Using other biomarkers, both smokers and obese individuals have higher levels of inflammation in their bodies than the general population.
Depression results in inflammation and inflammation “feeds” depression. The same cytokines that cause inflammation, pro-inflammatory cytokines, under other circumstances may be anti-inflammatory.
Data from studies demonstrate that depressed individuals have an imbalance of pro- and anti-inflammatory factors.
Some practitioners suggest that depressed patients need to “boost” their immune responses. Instead, “boosting” the immune response, i.e., inflammation, may only exacerbate the disease.
Because of the complexity of immune responses, it is important to let the body find its own “set” point. This is why achieving immune homeostasis, immune balance, is essential for good health.